Rangers Twitter doesn't think so. Pick any Rangers game day, and you'll see lots of twitterrrrage about Fast playing in the "Top 6". The conventional wisdom seems to be that Fast doesn't have the "hands" to contribute enough offensively to justify the playing time, while being a solid defensive player. Just a sample of the many tweets to this effect (taken from a period of about 20 minutes):
Granted Fast doesn't deserve top 6 ice time, he still is a really above average 3rd/4th liner— ️ (@NYRangers2716) March 9, 2016
Top 6 forward Jesper Fast.— Martin R. Burns (@mburnshockey) March 9, 2016
So I went to Emmanuel Perry's new site - corsica.hockey - and put together a list of forwards who have the most ice time, 5v5, in 2015/16. I drew a random cutoff at 30 games just to get players who at least played in about half of their team's games this season. That gives us a total of 382 forwards. I sorted them by total 5v5 ice time, and bucketed them into groups of 90. 1-90 are the "Top 3 Forwards", 91-180 are the "Top 6 Forwards" and 181-270 are the "Top 9 Forwards". Fast is 157th in 5v5 ice time - placing him below average for the Top 6 Forwards, but well above the average Top 9 Forward.
Here's how Fast compares to the average 2015 forward in the different buckets. Note: the data is Score, Zone, and Venue Adjusted (the methodologies of which Manny has not yet fully explained).
Short answer: Fast is Top 9 Forward, but he's not as far off the Top 6 as you might want to believe.
In case these aren't straightforward, the colors represent the buckets. So Fast has 6 5v5 goals in 2015/16 - placing him just above the average Top 9 Forward. His Assists/60 of 0.96, alternatively, place him just above the average Top 6 Forward. Look closer, though, and you'll see that he has 7 A2 ("second" assists), which are likely more random than primary A1 assists. Fast's primary points (goals and first assists) per 60 of 0.48 is just bad compared to this group.
What might be most interesting about Corsi (and other shot metric data) is how small the distinctions are. There's very little range here when it comes to the per 60 rates unless you're an outlier like Bergeron or Glass. In this group, the average Top 9 Forward is producing only about 4 CF more per 60 than the average Top 3 Forward (with much less ice time). [Maybe this means coaches are bad at giving out ice time to the players who deserve it. Ahem.]
Anyway, Fast individually (the "i" columns) under produces shot attempts, even for a Top 9 Forward. His per 60 rates are better - but I wonder if that is a result of his linemates: his most common wingers this season at 5v5 are Kreider/Miller/Brassard/Stepan. Fast's shot attempt against numbers (including relative to his team) are "Top 3" - which supports his reputation as a defensive player - but again, in this group of players, the spread is so small.
Unsurprisingly, shots on goal mirror shot attempts/Corsi. Fast produces very little individually offensively, but stands out defensively.
I was surprised to see Fast's individual shooting percentage so high. Maybe he needs to get more greedy in the offensive zone. Save % and PDO are not surprisingly high - but getting into whether Fast has something to do with any goaltending results is another question entirely.
Corsica's model for expected goals is explained here. Overall, we see mostly red, some yellow, and a few blue cells that are likely goaltender influenced. Again, Fast's individual numbers are low, even for the Top 9 Forwards. Maybe he's not shooting enough, or maybe he's not getting the puck in the prime scoring areas. but it doesn't look like he, himself, is getting the better chances to score. His negative Rel.GF% and Rel.xGF% seem to support this - he's expected to get less goals than his teammates.
How much weight you put on zone starts is up to you. I think it gives some context, at best, but I'm not an expert. Fast gets less OZ starts, and more DZ starts, than even the average Top 9 Forward, but he finishes shifts in the OZ and DZ more like a Top 6 Forward. I really think you see that in his zone start and finish ratios: he has a very low zone start ratio (44.47%), and a decent zone finish ratio (50.83%). Again, the ranges in all of these categories are small, but taken together, they indirectly support the idea that Fast is a trustworthy defensive player and play moves to the right end of the rink when he's on the ice..
Well that seals it. Fast is a Top 3 forward.
In summary, we probably haven't learned all that much, aside from how much time I'll waste procrastinating at work. Fast probably deserves the Top 6 ice time he gets if you want him to prevent shot attempts, and be part of a line moving the play to the offensive side of the rink. But in my opinion, he just hasn't been converting that play-driving into shots or goals commensurate with the amount of ice time he gets with guys like Kreider, Stepan, and Brassard.
The verdict is in: Jesper Fast is NOT a Top 6 Forward. He's like a Top 7...7.5 Forward.
[Qualifications: There's a lot of other ways you can look at this and improve this review. You can look at his pass tracking data [which I've considered], his WOWYs, or his shot hextallys. You could increase the amount of data by looking at prior years and compare him to larger historical results. Heck you could actually hire someone who understands fancystats more than I do to look into it. But eh, I've got a Better Call Saul to watch.]
So let's give the last word on this vital issue to a real solid guy who works hard, takes is one tweet at a time, and gives 110% each RT: me
[Alain Jr] Vous avez quelques derniers mots de papa ?— Rick Nashtag (@PopsTwitTar) March 5, 2016
[AV] Jesper Fast... est un... 6 supérieur vers... l'avant [finir de vivre]
all data in charts from corsica.hockey