Player: Bryan Rust
Born: May 11, 1992 (Age 30 season)
Height: 5’ 11”
Weight: 192 pounds
Hometown: Pontiac, Michigan
Draft: 2010 NHL Draft 3rd round (80th overall) by the Pittsburgh Penguins
2022-23 Statistics: 81 games played, 20 goals, 26 assists = 46 points
Contract Status: Rust completed the first year of a six year contract that was signed in May 2022. There are now five years remaining on the deal that will run through the 2027-28 season and carries an annual cap hit of $5.125 million.
Fun fact: For the first time since 2018-19 and just second time in his career, the oft injured Rust played more than 70 games, setting a new career high this season with 81 games played, just one shy of a full season.
Hidden Stat: For the first time since his rookie season in 2015-16, Rust saw his shooting percentage dip under 10%. In fact, it tanked almost a whole four percentage points from last season despite taking a career high 211 shots, leading to his lowest goal total since the 2018-19 campaign.
History: 2021-22: 80% A, 20% B; 2020-21: 61% A, 37% B; 2019-20: 91% A, 9% B.
It was a dreadful start to the season for Rust, especially in November when he managed just 3 points in 14 games. December was a great bounce back and many thought he was back on track but he could never sustain that pace the rest of way.
Story of the Season
Bryan Rust was one of the key questions heading into last offseason and there was a quick answer when the Penguins and Rust reached an agreement on a new six year contract less than a week after the season ended.
Rust was coming off another career season that saw him play at a near point per game pace and was well deserving of his new contract. Unfortunately, for the Penguins and Rust, 2022-23 was not a repeat performance of seasons past as the winger struggled for long stretches and saw his numbers suffer as a result. Rust went from 58 points in 60 games to 46 points in 81 games.
Despite spending all season alongside either Crosby of Malkin in the top six, Rust’s finishing woes were a major hinderance on his goal scoring, an issue that plagued him from the very start.
Regular season 5v5 advanced stats
Data via Natural Stat Trick. Ranking is out of 16 forwards on the team who qualified by playing a minimum of 150 minutes.
Corsi For%: 55.3% (6th)
Goals For%: 54.8% (6th)
xGF%: 54.9% (7th)
Scoring Chance %: 52.5% (7th)
High Danger Scoring Chance%: 55.6% (8th)
5v5 on-ice shooting%: 7.69% (6th)
On-ice save%: .925% (4th)
Goals/60: 0.78 (6th)
Assist/60: 0.78 (9th)
Points/60: 1.55 (9th)
Rust was about middle of the pack in everything when it came to the underlying numbers this season. His 5v5 shooting % matches his scoring struggles and is a full percentage point lower than last season.
Rust is not a player Mike Sullivan is afraid to shuffle lines with as indicated by his line mate distribution this season. He started alongside Evgeni Malkin and Jason Zucker. Then jumped to the top line with Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel before finding his was back to Malkin then back to Crosby then back to...you get the picture.
As mentioned earlier in this piece, Rust saw his shoot percentage dip drastically this season, falling from over 13% last season to under 10% this season. It wasn’t for lack of trying as Rust registered a career high in shots on goal but the finishing luck was just not there this year and his goal total took a hit.
Swapping lines throughout the season can prevent a player from building any real chemistry with line partners, but Rust has been around long enough that he already has a rapport with both Crosby and Malkin. Though he wasn’t terrible skating with Crosby and Guentzel this season, his best impacts on the ice came when he was on the second line with Malkin and Zucker.
This appears to be an instance where the eye test and the analytics match up. Overall just a down year from Rust after a three season stretch where he registered 98 points in 111 games played. There were times this season where it felt like he completely disappeared from games though his lack of finishing contributes a lot to his slumping play.
Despite the down year, there is still a lot to like about Rust and it’s fair to chalk it up to just being one of those seasons (He certainly wasn’t the only one). He was great in the neutral zone which shouldn’t go unnoticed and his passing was still above average though the assist numbers may not reflect that. Once again, the finishing was a glaring issue.
West side of PA, best side of PA.— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) April 2, 2023
How good has Bryan Rust been this weekend?! pic.twitter.com/0mlMt1bmgL
Bryan Rust with one of the nicest empty-net goals you will ever see. pic.twitter.com/OG4bRjB5v8— NHL (@NHL) March 1, 2023
Bryan Rust takes matters into his own hands pic.twitter.com/DT6nsRNEar— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) December 23, 2022
With this goal, Bryan Rust (the 80th-overall pick in the 2010 draft) becomes the 20th member of his draft class to reach 300 points. pic.twitter.com/uW0MdSw8Vk— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) January 27, 2023
Someone isn't singing the Blues... Bryan Rust now has ten points (4G-6A) against the Blues in nine games played. pic.twitter.com/bsUz3QkBH9— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) December 4, 2022
Bryan Rust (@rustyyy_92) with the goal, Evgeni Malkin with point No. 1,200! pic.twitter.com/KSJBNWsXsj— NHL (@NHL) February 11, 2023
Bryan Rust (@rustyyy_92) gives the @penguins the victory and extra point with his @Energizer overtime winner! pic.twitter.com/7YJUzsDOoZ— NHL (@NHL) February 25, 2023
When you sign a big money contract extension and have developed a pedigree as a top line player, there are certain expectations. This season, Bryan Rust did not live up to those expectations. Twenty goals is nothing to bat an eye at, but when goal scoring was coming almost exclusively from the top six for long stretches, a few more could have made a huge difference.
For a guy who was basically an injury call up when his career began, anything he produced was house money for the Penguins before this season. Now that he has the big contract a baseline of expectations, when you don’t meet those expectations it’s going to be considered a let down. Fingers crossed this in an outlier and not the norm.
Let’s start with a return to form like we saw in 21-22 that helped earn him his big pay day. Some end of season pieces mentioned Rust as a possible trade candidate as the Penguins look to retool their roster but that’s all speculation at the moment.
While no one knows for certain what the new front office will do, it’s hard to imagine the Penguins will dump Rust after one bad season just a year after giving him that big contract. Let’s assume Rust stays and continues receiving top six minutes, another season of health combined with a bump in the shooting percentage could put Rust back in career best territory.
How would you grade Bryan Rust’s 2022-23 season?
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