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2015-16 Pensburgh Recap: Bryan Rust

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A look at the season for Bryan Rust, who started the year out in the minor leagues and ended as a key player and a Stanley Cup Champion.

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Age and Contract Status

Age: 24 (May 11, 1992). Penguins GM Jim Rutherford made another savvy move (in a long line of them in the past year) when he re-signed Rust for two more years at a barely above NHL minimum wage of $640,000 in March. So the Pens will have him on the cheap through the 2017-18 season, and then Rust will still be a restricted free agent.

Preseason Expectations

Last summer Rust was voted #9 in the Pensburgh Top 25 players Under 25 (feature to return in August by the way). Here's what we said last year:

Rust's first season [2014-15] was a success, as evidenced by him shooting up the ranks here from 19 to 9. Rust cracks the top 10 with a solid AHL season (27 points in 45 games) and a 14 game NHL appearance (scoring 1 goal and 1 assists). Rust has become a fairly versatile player, left wing, right wing, scoring line, bottom-6 line. And he should have a decent chance to make the NHL team out of training camp.

Rust didn't make the team out of camp, but he did get called up for 5 NHL regular season games in October. This was followed by bouncing around NHL to AHL and back a little, then Rust became an NHL full-timer in January and never looked back.

2015-16 Stats

Regular season (NHL): 41 games played, 4 goals, 7 assists, 11 points, 12 penalty minutes

Playoffs: 23 gp, 6g + 3a, 9p, 6 PIMs

Verdict

This season was an unqualified success and a huge jump forward for Rust. As mentioned, for a year where he didn't even make the NHL club out of camp, he ends up being on Evgeni Malkin's line and only getting out-goal scored in the playoffs among teammates by Phil Kessel and Patric Hornqvist.

Rust's biggest night was undoubtedly Game 7 vs Tampa, when he scored both of the Penguins goals, which would be enough to send them on to the Stanley Cup Final. Rust will be in franchise lore for that alone, and he also added the first goal of the SCF against the Sharks.

Rust was a key ingredient in the Pens youthful and speedy revolution and played a bigger role than anyone would know with all those clutch goals late in the season. He's not overflowing with skill, but he has decent enough hands and more importantly a drive to get himself and pucks to the net, and that paid off in spades for him and the Penguins this spring.

Future

If the Penguins intend to keep their "3 line" model to keep Kessel, Malkin and Sidney Crosby all on separate lines, that represents a great opportunity for Rust to play as many minutes as he can stay productive on a scoring line. If the lines revert, Rust figures to be placed on a bottom-6 line, which is probably a better fit for his skills and attributes. Either way, now on a one-way contract and an instrumental member of the team, the guy won't have to worry about not making the NHL team in training camp this fall.

2015-16 Pens 5v5 Forward Usage Chart

(via Corsica Hockey)

Overall Rust was used defensively this year, since he was mainly in a 4th line role until the playoffs. And he performed mainly like a 4th liner with a low P/60 (1.01), a decent Corsi (51.6%) and at least saw more goals go in the right net (1.90 GF/60) than the wrong one (1.77 GA/60). Tough to ask for more from a lower line player in his first NHL season, and that's all before the playoff heroics.

Rust's HERO Chart

(From Own The Puck)

2015-16 Game-by-Game Analysis

(From HockeyViz, explained here)

rust71116

As you can see in the bottom, Rust's production really kicked in for the last 16 games, where he had 8 points (2g+6a) despite playing 4th line with Matt Cullen and Tom Kuhnhackl.

Distribution of Teammates and Competition

(From HockeyViz, explained here)

rust711162

GIFs of the Year

Poking in the rebound for what would be the Eastern Conference Final Game 7 winning goal.

rust goal tb

Go to the net, get rewarded. Martin Jones didn't allow many goals, but Rust got the Pens on the board early in Game 1 to set the tone for the rest of the series.

rust goal sharks

This goal from March on Braden Holtby showed some nice hands and patience for Rust as well.

Drinkin a cold one like a champ

So many great moments came from the parade, here's a classic of a fan tossing Rust a beer and a healthy chug. Notice that Rust's hand is wrapped up, from a break suffered against the Sharks. It hurts to win the Cup.

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Feel free to vote in the poll below to rate Bryan Rust's season. Vote based on your expectations coming into the season, with 1 being the lowest and 10 being the highest.