When talking about what Bryan Rust best brings to the team it could easily be answered with his versatility. The former Notre Dame standout has the ability to play on either wing, he can play both special team units, as well as slide up and down the lineup and be a fit with whoever he lines up with.
After signing a four-year extension in the offseason that made him at the time (Tanner Pearson has passed him) the second highest paid forward on the roster not named Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Phil Kessel, expectations were obviously risen for Rust to produce more offensively.
Saying that things didn’t start ideal for Rust would be a major understatement, as he registered just one goal in his first 29 games of the season.
Rust wasn’t alone, as none of the Penguins’ secondary scorers were finding the back of the net, as they heavily relied on the efforts of Crosby, Kessel, and Malkin to win games. While they won some, long-term everyone knew that the Penguins weren’t going to make it far without others scoring behind the star players.
Finally, just over a week ago, everything clicked for Rust, who recorded the second hat trick of his career. Despite still losing the game 6-3, it was good to see Rust get things moving in the right direction.
He didn’t stop there. Over the next five games, which has spanned barely over a week, Rust has added five more goals, giving him a total of nine now on the season.
The difference over the last week compared to the beginning of the season? Rust has been shooting far more, especially in prime opportunity areas.
|1st 29 games||Last 6 games|
While playing at 5v5 (Rust has scored all eight of his goals at even strength), Rust has more than doubled his shots-per-60 minutes(iSF/60) metric, and high-danger-chances per 60 (iHDCF/60).
No one has scored at a better rate at even strength than Rust over the last week, not surprising when he has been filling the net like him. In that same time, only Brendan Gallagher and Jeff Skinner have been shooting the puck more often than Rust, who has 25 shots (14.82 iSF/60) in that span.
Rust's versatility is valuable
What else has helped during Rust’s streak? His linemates. Rust has the ability to play up and down the lineup, play almost any role, but more importantly, shows chemistry with almost anyone they put him with.
It’s not hard to mesh with Crosby, but when played together at the right time, he and Rust have changed entire games together. Throw in Jake Guentzel, and the Penguins have at times one of the most dominant lines in hockey.
Guentzel has especially played a factor in Rust’s success, earning the primary assist on his last three goals overall. Crosby and Guentzel have factored in five straight goals scored by Rust.
Not all of the goals that Rust scored are going to make the highlight reels. The only thing most will remember from his tally against the Washington Capitals is that it served as the game-winner.
Of course, every now and again, he shows off his great wrist shot, here beating Kings' goalie Jonathan Quick.
For the longest time, it looked like Rust was going to struggle to score five goals, let alone ten. After just a week Rust has put himself back at the kind of pace that turned out his highest career goal output, and should he stay healthy all season, could push the 20-goal plateau for the first time.
With their win against the Minnesota Wild, where Rust scored both goals, Pittsburgh took over sole possession of third place in the Metropolitan Division, three points behind the Capitals at the top.
Saturday’s contest against the Carolina Hurricanes will be the last for the Penguins until after the Christmas break before returning to action next Thursday against the Detroit Red Wings.
While it’s going to be impossible to keep the current pace he is on, has this streak put Rust on the right path to top 20-goals for the first time in his career? Give us your predictions in the comments below, and let us know what you have thought of Rust’s play of the last week!