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2018-19 Penguins’ Season in Review: Bryan Rust

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A cold start couldn’t stop Bryan Rust from proving the Penguins right

NHL: New Jersey Devils at Pittsburgh Penguins Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Vitals

Player: Bryan Rust

Born: May 11, 1992 (27 years old)

Height: 5’ 11”

Weight: 192 pounds

Birthplace: Pontiac, Michigan

Position: RW

Shoots: Right

Draft: 2010 PIT, 3rd Round (80th overall)

2018-19 Stats: 72GP/18G/17A/35P

Contract status: This season was the first of a four year deal that Rust signed as a restricted free agent last offseason. Coming in at a $3.5 million AAV, Rust provides about average scoring numbers for his price tag along with the ability to play up and down the lineup. His deal runs for three more season through 2021-22.

The past: For his work in 2017-18, Rust earned a B grade from Pensburgh and the same from our readers.

Regular Season History

NHL Standard career statistics
Scoring Goals Assists Shots Ice Time
Season Age Tm Lg GP G A PTS +/- PIM EV PP SH GW EV PP SH S S% TSA TOI ATOI FOW FOL FO% BLK HIT TK GV Awards
2014-15 22 PIT NHL 14 1 1 2 -3 4 1 0 0 0 1 0 0 34 2.9 48 168 12:02 0 0 3 21 2 6
2015-16 23 PIT NHL 41 4 7 11 1 12 4 0 0 1 6 1 0 68 5.9 114 512 12:30 1 3 25.0 23 62 10 8
2016-17 24 PIT NHL 57 15 13 28 4 8 15 0 0 1 12 0 1 110 13.6 188 777 13:38 2 3 40.0 29 101 18 16
2017-18 25 PIT NHL 69 13 25 38 11 26 9 2 2 3 22 2 1 123 10.6 217 1107 16:03 8 23 25.8 40 97 31 32
2018-19 26 PIT NHL 72 18 17 35 10 24 16 0 2 4 15 0 2 141 12.8 232 1145 15:54 8 16 33.3 59 119 30 27
Career 5 yrs NHL 253 51 63 114 23 74 45 2 4 9 56 3 4 476 10.7 799 3711 14:40 19 45 29.7 154 400 91 89
Provided by Hockey-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/15/2019.

This season marked Rust’s third full NHL campaign since being called up on a full time basis in 2016 and it was his healthiest season to date. His 72 games played are a career high and should have been higher had he not suffered an unfortunate injury late in the season. More good news coming from this season for Rust is he set a new career high in goals and was on pace for his first 20-goal campaign if it were not for the aforementioned injury.

Rust spent most of his time this season on the top line alongside Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel which provides him with plenty of opportunities to put the puck in the net. He was comically snake bitten through the first 30 games but once he broke out of the funk the floodgates opened for him. He also does most of his scoring at even strength, but he did provide some offense on the penalty kill this year with a pair of shorthanded tallies.

His speed makes him such a weapon to deploy with big scorers like Crosby and Guentzel since he creates so much havoc for opposing defenders on the forecheck. Hopefully more health and more luck next season will see those numbers climb even higher.

Fancier Stats

Advanced NHL career statistics
Corsi (EV) Fenwick (EV) PDO (EV) Zone Starts (EV)
Season Age Team Lg GP TOI CF CA CF% CF% rel FF FA FF% FF% rel oiGF oiSH% oiGA oiSV% PDO oZS% dZS%
2014-15 22 PIT NHL 14 161.8 158 141 52.8 0.2 114 106 51.8 -0.5 5 6.0 8 90.1 96.1 59.6 40.4
2015-16 23 PIT NHL 41 489.3 428 410 51.1 -5.3 332 301 52.4 -3.7 17 6.9 15 93.1 100.0 42.8 57.2
2016-17 24 PIT NHL 57 723.7 719 688 51.1 1.7 538 514 51.1 0.2 38 9.4 36 91.0 100.4 51.7 48.3
2017-18 25 PIT NHL 69 956.2 1031 827 55.5 4.9 767 608 55.8 4.0 45 8.2 37 91.3 99.5 53.8 46.2
2018-19 26 PIT NHL 72 989.9 990 1008 49.5 -0.2 756 763 49.8 -0.2 51 9.4 46 91.6 101.0 48.9 51.1
Career NHL 253 3320.9 3326 3074 52.0 0.9 2507 2292 52.2 0.5 156 8.6 142 91.5 100.0 50.6 49.4
Provided by Hockey-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/15/2019.

For his career, Rust has been a positive possession player each season but those numbers took a slide backwards a bit this season. His CF% dipped under 50.0 for the first time though ever so slightly but his CF% Relative took a big hit dropping all the way to -0.2.

While his possession numbers were not impressive this season, there is a silver lining for Rust overall. When playing with his typical linemates Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel, Rust was a positive possession player. It was when he was away from those two that his numbers began to slide backwards.

Via NaturalStatTrick

Overall, that top line was a force on the ice when Rust was playing with them. A good sign for Rust given how much time he typically spends alongside them, even if his overall body of work this season was below his career average.

Playoffs

NHL Playoffs career statistics
Scoring Goals Shots Ice Time
Season Age Tm Lg GP G A PTS +/- PIM EV PP SH GW S S% TSA TOI ATOI FOW FOL FO% BLK HIT TK GV
2015-16 23 PIT NHL SC 23 6 3 9 7 6 6 0 0 1 34 17.6 60 265 11:31 3 2 60.0 14 34 9 1
2016-17 24 PIT NHL SC 23 7 2 9 5 10 7 0 0 2 42 16.7 68 367 15:57 0 2 0.0 22 42 6 9
2017-18 25 PIT NHL 12 3 0 3 2 4 3 0 0 1 14 21.4 19 174 14:32 3 1 75.0 9 15 1 5
2018-19 26 PIT NHL 4 0 0 0 -4 2 0 0 0 0 3 0.0 6 56 13:55 0 0 5 11 0 4
Career 4 yrs NHL 62 16 5 21 10 22 16 0 0 4 93 17.2 153 862 13:54 6 5 54.5 50 102 16 19
Provided by Hockey-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/15/2019.

It’s no secret amongst Penguins fans how much of a playoff performer Rust has been for the team, but his short stay in the 2019 playoffs will be one he hopes to soon forget. Rust played an integral part in the team’s back-to-back titles in 2016 and 2017, scoring clutch game winning goals in a pair of Game 7 contests, but that big goal never came for him this time around.

He missed a bulk of time leading up to the playoffs and he never quite seemed like himself when he did return from injury late in the season. It was never revealed at clean out day, but it seemed evident that whatever was ailing Rust late in the season carried over to the playoffs where he went scoreless in four games.

Monthly split

via Yahoo!

We mentioned this above, but Rust was cruelly snake bitten for the first two and a half months of the season before breaking out in a big way starting in mid-December. He scored just one goal in his first 29 games and went the entire month of November without scoring at all. After 22 games without a goal, Rust broke out in a big way with a hat trick against the Chicago Blackhawks on December 12th and he never looked back after that.

Following his hat trick, Rust scored in five of the team’s next six games leading into the Christmas break and continued his tear into the new year. After one goal in 29 games, Rust finished the season with 17 goals in 43 games, a 32 goal pace for an entire season. Although Rust was struggling to find the net early on, his overall body of work on the ice was still positive he just had terrible luck. Once the bounces started falling his way the goals started coming in bunches.

It’s really too bad Rust had such tough luck at the beginning of the season then suffered an injury at the end. It would have been interesting to see where his numbers ended up had things gone more his way because he almost certainly sets new career highs across the board.

Charts

Via hockeyviz

Rust is a key factor into what the Penguins do on the ice every night. His speed and offensive ability make him the perfect match alongside Crosby and Guentzel on the top line. On the season he finished fifth among forwards on the team in total time on ice with 955 minutes.

Via hockeyviz

By far Rust’s healthiest season of his career but that big gap of white space near the end of the season really sticks out. He spends most of his time in the top-six which is no surprise and he’s done more than enough to earn that role in the lineup.

Via hockeyviz

All of that red and black in the top portion show just how much time Rust spent with Crosby and Guentzel this season. As a group, those three put together a pretty good season as the top line for the Penguins. Together they accounted for 26 goals while only surrendering 13 to the opposition, something the Penguins surely like to see.

He doesn’t see much time on the man advantage but he is a key component of the team’s penalty kill.

Via hockeyviz

Rust was the Penguins number two penalty killer among forwards this season, falling in just behind the ageless wonder Matt Cullen. He flanked Cullen on the top penalty kill unit with Brian Dumoulin and Kris Letang on the back end.

Via hockeyviz
Via hockeyviz

If Bryan Rust was on the ice that usually meant the Penguins first line was on the ice and they absolutely barraged opposing goaltenders with shots this season. Deep red in the high danger area is a good sign as the Penguins were generating scoring chances with Rust on the ice. Those shots extending into the slot and above mean the offense was there for the Penguins when Rust was present.

Via hockeyviz
Via hockeyviz

On the flip side, due to the Penguins style of play and their top line’s willingness to sacrifice defense in favor of creating chances the other way, opponents were also creating offense with Rust on the ice. This may stick out as a negative, but given how crucial that top line is for the Penguins overall success, you take the good with the bad and more often than not it works out in their favor.

Highlights

One goal in 29 games is certainly not how Rust wanted to start the season but he made amends and snapped his goal drought with this hat trick against the Chicago Blackhawks in December. We didn’t know it at the time, but this game turned out to be a huge turning point in Rust’s season as he became a significant offensive threat for the Penguins moving forward.

When he’s not scoring goals Rust can be found helping out in his own zone. A few nights after his hat trick in Chicago, Rust bailed out Casey DeSmith with a sliding block that prevented a sure goal Jakob Silfverberg.

Rust scored two shorthanded goals this season and both were beauties. First he caught the Florida Panthers sleeping and slipped by the defense for a sneaky deke and goal then followed it up with another about a month later, finishing off a beautiful sequence with Matt Cullen against the Edmonton Oilers.

Ideal 2019-20

Rust finally stays healthy and doesn’t miss a chunk of time like he has in the past. His shooting percentage remains steady near his career average and he breaks through in a big way on offense, setting new career highs in goals, assists, and points all the while furthering cementing himself as the right winger on the top line with Crosby and Guentzel. Pulling the minutes he does with those two you would like to see Rust coming in somewhere around the 20-25 goal range with an addition 25 assists on top of that. Makes his deal look like a real bargain for the Penguins.

Realistic 2019-20

The ideal and realistic scenario for Rust are remarkably similar. He’s been around long enough that we pretty much know what we are going to get from him year in and year out unless something completely drastic occurs. Assuming he’ll be back with Crosby and Guentzel means expectations for him will be high once again. It’s wishful thinking to hope he plays a full 82 game slate but he was healthier this season so we can hope that carries over. I can’t imagine he’ll start next season as cold as he did this one so having a few extra goals in the early going will help the overall numbers. Hitting that 20 goal mark will be a huge milestone that Rust absolutely has to reach with the talent around him.

Worst case 2019-20

He’s playing for another team. We know the Penguins will be making changes this offseason and they will likely be significant. For those moves to happen, some players will have to sent away as assets or clearing cap space. Last offseason the Penguins rewarded Rust with a long term contract and he is clearly a part of their extended plans. Those plans can change in an instant however if Jim Rutherford feels Rust is expendable to facilitate a trade. He’s shown his value to the team and meshes well with Crosby and Guentzel. Keeping him should be a priority.

Discussion

Rust has now completed his third full season in the NHL and proven he belongs on the ice with the best of them. His numbers will not blow you away but he has shown flashes of a higher scoring potential. It really all comes down to health and a few more breaks falling his way. His start to the season was more anomaly than a sign of things to come. Even when he wasn’t scoring he was still playing pretty good hockey. He stayed patient and the puck eventually started going in for him, scoring at 30+ goal pace from December onwards.

Perhaps the most telling thing about Rust is how much head coach Mike Sullivan trusts him. He gets regular minutes with Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel on the top line and is a vital piece of their penalty kill. His speed creates havoc for the opponents and opens up opportunities from the bigger scorers around him. If those offensive numbers tick up even just a little bit that deal will look like a bargain compared to others across the league.

Poll

What Grade do you give Bryan Rust?

This poll is closed

  • 8%
    A
    (24 votes)
  • 59%
    B
    (164 votes)
  • 27%
    C
    (74 votes)
  • 3%
    D
    (10 votes)
  • 0%
    F
    (2 votes)
274 votes total Vote Now