For the first part of his career Bryan Rust has been the type of player that you never really fully appreciated until he was not in the lineup and everything kind of fell apart. He always made an impact in whatever role the coaching staff put him, but you maybe never fully realized it until he was not there to do it.
You always hear hockey people talk about “glue” players, the non-superstars that every winning team has and needs. It is usually about a fourth-line grinder that checks people for the sake of “bringing energy,” or a depth player that does not provide much in the way of tangible results but is a “leader” or “personality” in the room to keep everyone together.
But really, the perfect glue player to hold everything together is Bryan Rust.
There is not a role on the team that he can not play.
Need a first-line winger? He can fill that spot and score enough to matter, while also doing “the little things” on the line.
Someone to play in your middle-six and provide some offense in a complementary role? He has that ability.
The penalty kill? He is going to be there, too.
He is still providing all of that this season while also having everything perfectly click for him to produce what is almost certainly going to be a career year across the board.
After picking up two more points on Tuesday in the Penguins’ 4-1 win in Calgary he finds himself with 24 total points (13 goals and 11 assists) in 20 games and driving possession with a 54.3 percent Corsi mark.
Those are MVP level numbers. Over an 82-game season it is a 53-goal, 98-point pace.
Even taking into account the fact he has missed 14 games he is still on pace for 40 goals and 80 points.
At the center of that increased production is the fact he is playing nearly 18 minutes per game, a three-to-four minute per game jump from his previous career averages. Play an extra four minutes per game, and get ice-time next to Evgeni Malkin and Jake Guentzel for a lot of it, and an already productive player is going to see a spike in his numbers.
Is it reasonable to expect him to keep scoring at this pace? That is probably expecting too much because these McDavid/MacKinnon level numbers, and for as good as Rust is, he’s not that player. But there’s also this: After starting the 2018-19 season with one goal in his first 29 games (and no doubt being on of the players that general manager Jim Rutherford was publicly calling out) he has produced the following numbers:
Corsi: 51.2 percent
Even that is a 40-goal pace over 82 games. Yes it is still a relatively small sampling, but we are still getting close to a full season’s worth of games, and it’s not like his shooting percentage during that stretch is completely outrageous, even for his normal career averages.
Even before this recent scoring surge started pretty much exactly one year ago (it began with his hat trick in Chicago on Dec. 10, 2018) he was a consistent 20-goal per 82-game winger while always playing around 15 minutes per game and getting almost no power play time. He has consistently maintained a mid-teens shooting percentage and has always produced extremely well on a per-minute basis. He’s just played on a team that has been loaded at forward and not always given him an opportunity to consistently play bigger minutes.
It is not a stretch to think that with a few extra minutes per game that his scoring could push the 25-30 goal mark.
If he gives them that, along with everything else he provides, he is a complete steal against the salary cap.
This year he has arguably been one of the team’s two or three most valuable players (maybe even the most valuable player) and even if his scoring slows down a little bit he is still going to be one of the best complementary players in the league.