Player: Bryan Rust
Born: May 11, 1992 (28 years old)
Height: 5’ 11”
Weight: 192 pounds
Birthplace: Pontiac, Michigan
Draft: 2010 Pittsburgh Penguins, 3rd round, 80th overall
2019-20 Statistics: 55 games played, 27 goals, 29 assists, 56 points
Contract Status: This season was the second season Rust played under the four year deal he signed back in the summer of 2018. Rust remains under contract through the 2021-22 season with an AAV of $3.5 million against the salary cap.
In our 2018-19 season review, the vast majority of fans (60% of the votes) gave Rust a “B” grade for his season performance. Going back even further, 88% of fans who graded Rust’s performance for the 2017-18 season awarded him a grade in the “B” range as well. Rust seems consistent to say the least, but perhaps his performance this season elevates him to the “A” level.
Regular Season History & 2019-20 Stats
Data via Hockey-Reference
This season was Rust’s fourth full-time endeavor with the Penguins after originally being a call-up during the 2015-16 Stanley Cup campaign. Just looking at the numbers from this season compared to those of seasons past there is no question 2019-20 was a career year for the right winger. Even though he missed the first 11 games of the season, and 14 total, Rust set new career highs in every major offensive category and led the Penguins in goals.
Advanced Stats History & 2019-20 Season
Data via Hockey-Reference
Following a slight downward tick in his possession stats last season, Rust bounced back with a strong, positive possession performance in 2019-20. Based on his season stats, one could assume Rust was used primarily in an offensive role and that assumption would be correct. On the season, Rust began nearly 60% of his shifts in the offensive zone, something that is to be expected from a top-six player.
According to Natural Stat Trick, Rust spent most of his playing time on a line centered by Evgeni Malkin. When together on the ice, Malkin and Rust controlled play and their strong individual stats were an indicator of that. Due to the rash of injuries the Penguins suffered this season, Rust’s other wing partner varied depending on who was healthy at the time.
Rust’s most common wing partner was Jake Guentzel before he was sidelined with a shoulder injury and missed the remained of the regular season. When the trio of Rust, Malkin, and Guentzel were on the ice together, they were an offensive force and the stats are there to show just how dominant they were.
Like everyone else on the Penguins roster, there isn’t much to be said about Rust in the playoffs this season. He scored a power play goal in Game 1 against the Canadiens and recorded a pair of assists in the four game affair. His three points tied Sidney Crosby for the team lead.
After missing most of the first month due to injury, Rust put together the best three month run of his career from November through January. In that stretch alone, Rust set new career highs in goals, assists, and points for a season while producing well over a point per game pace. By the time January closed, Rust was already over the 20 goal mark and well on pace to net 30+ had the season not been cut short.
That red hot three month stretch took some time off in February, but that is a month most of the Penguins will want to forget when they reflect on the season. Before the season went on hold in March, Rust was trending back in the right direction, returning to his point per game play and his scoring touch making a comeback.
Aside from his missed time in October, Rust was one of the few Penguins to stay healthy for a long stretch of time this season, missing just three games from November onwards. Based off his averages through the 55 games he did play, over the course of a full 82 game season Rust’s numbers project to 40 goals and 84 points. Not bad for a guy making only $3.5 million against the cap.
Charts (via HockeyViz)
Overall Role & General Data
As mentioned above, Rust’s most common linemate was Evgeni Malkin. Due to injuries and other roster shakeups, it’s a mish-mash of other guys who played alongside Rust this season. Jake Guentzel sticks out but once he went down to injury it was more or less just a rotation of bodies to fill out that line.
Even-Strength Unblocked Shot Locations
Bryan Rust has always been a shooter and that was again the case this season. On top of all his other career highs, Rust also set a new career his in shots this season, putting 151 attempts on goal, good for fourth on the Penguins and third among forwards. He also registered a career high 17.9% shooting percentage, something he will have to maintain if he wants to post more career highs next season.
One of the major benefits to having Rust on the roster is his ability to play both ways on special teams. He’s always been a solid penalty killer for the Penguins and now that his offensive game has developed he can get some man advantage time as well. Nine of his 27 goals this season came on special teams (8 PP-1 SH) making his worth easily quantifiable.
This was a simply incredible season for Rust and it’s a shame it was cut short by the coronavirus shutdown. Even with the early season injury, Rust was well on his way to 30+ goals and 60+ points, about as good as you could hope for from a player making just $3.5 million against the salary cap.
In a year that saw the Penguins battered by injuries from the start, Bryan Rust stepped up and put together the best season of his career to help keep the team afloat and in contention. You couldn’t ask for much more from a guy like Rust than what you got this season.
According to CapFriendly, one of Rust’s closest comparisons in terms of contract is former Penguin Tanner Pearson. Rust and Pearson play a similar style of hockey, so it’s easy to draw some comparisons between the two and figure out an ideal 2020-21 scenario for the former. Pearson racked up 45 points this season and scored 21 goals while clicking off a 12.8% shooting percentage, a number much closer to the mean than Rust was this season.
Even if Rust slides back a little next year in terms of shooting, but keeps up the shot volume, it’s not hard to foresee him reaching 20+ goals once again. Assuming he will be paired up with Malkin means the points will come so staying in that window of 45-50 point range for a full season will do wonders for the Penguins. Anything beyond that is a bonus, but if he does have a repeat of this season, maybe we will need to readjust our expectations.
Question to ponder
Although he was healthier than most of his teammates this season, those 11 games Rust missed to start the season put a significant dent in what his numbers could have been. Through four full seasons now, Rust has continually improved his offensive production but has missed at least ten games in each of those seasons. Can he find a way to limit the injuries and remain on the ice for 75+ games next season? If so, his production should get a big boost especially with consistent top-six minutes.
Grade Bryan Rust’s 2019-20 performance:
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