Grove: Bryan Rust Producing In More Than Just The Eye Test

Bob Grove
January 11, 2020 - 12:50 pm
bryan rust

(93.7 The Fan) At this point, it’s really easy to get caught up in the numbers Bryan Rust is producing.

The Penguins’ 27-year-old right winger is on pace to score 41 goals this season despite missing 14 games with injuries. He’s already matched his career high of 18, that one coming in the third period of Pittsburgh’s 4-3 overtime win at Colorado Friday night. He’s averaging 0.6 goals per game, tied for fourth in the NHL and better than Alex Ovechkin, Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid. When he’s on the ice at five-on-five, Natural Stat Trick tells us 66.0 percent of the goals scored are scored by the Penguins; only Evgeni Malkin has a better number (66.7) with Pittsburgh.

Those metrics stand out on their own, and even more so when we recall Rust had one goal in his first 29 games last season.

But when you look at Rust’s whole game using the eye test, it’s even more impressive.

He’s not cheating.

Rust has always been a north-south player who takes pucks to the net and uses his speed to put him in positions to succeed offensively, but he’s using that speed when necessary on the backcheck, too. He’s coming back in his own end, which is where he started the play that produced Malkin’s go-ahead goal Friday, a goal that saw him gain the zone, distribute the puck to Dominik Kahun and then go to the net to provide a screen that helped Malkin beat Pavel Francouz.

So he gets an assist, but many of the elements of that play don’t show up on a scoresheet: the defensive positioning, the skating to get through the neutral zone and across the blue line, his ability to read the play to Kahun, and his decision to go to the net.

Rust is also distributing the puck as well as he ever has in the NHL, and his PK duties are also helping him block shots at a rate that is third behind only Brandon Tanev and Patric Hornqvist among Pittsburgh forwards.

Now let’s not pretend that Rust isn’t benefiting from playing beside Malkin now and previously beside Sidney Crosby, both of whom he’s played with before, but never to this extent. He’s getting power play time he never had before, but he’s also continuing to see penalty killing duty – and that’s not typical for the top goal-scorers in the NHL. Of the 23 players who have scored more goals than Rust this season, only three are seeing more PK time per game than him: J-G Pageau in Ottawa, Brad Marchand in Boston and Sebastian Aho in Carolina.

Rust’s total ice time is at a career high 19:41 per game; that’s almost four minutes more per game than he got last season. That kind of growth in ice time is an adjustment that often goes overlooked. It demands that a player be smart about the length of his shifts and smart about ensuring his conditioning remains at a level that supports those time demands every game.

Rust is a very confident hockey player right now, not only amassing points but getting pucks to the net at rates he’s never reached before. But he’s also been consistent and, even more importantly, he’s playing a complete game. He’s not hanging around the blue line waiting for the puck and leaving the hard work to other forwards down the lineup. He’s +19; among NHL forwards, only the Rangers’ Artemi Panarin is better at +21.

That means something to Mike Sullivan, and it means something big to the Penguins.

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