Grove: Where Does Bryan Rust Fit In

Rustwill be under pressure to bring all the elements of his game

Bob Grove
October 25, 2019 - 9:01 am

© Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Related: Bob Grove: Injury-Plagued Penguins Need Players To Step Up

PITTSBURGH (93.7 The Fan) - When it came to his spot in the lineup last season, Bryan Rust, as usual, was all over the map. He began it as a third-line right wing with Derick Brassard and also moved to the left wing when Riley Sheahan and Derek Grant centered both that line and the fourth line; he spent brief periods as both a right wing and left wing with Evgeni Malkin; and he spent nearly two months as Sidney Crosby’s right wing on the top line.

Rust’s offensive production was equally unpredictable. He had one goal in the first 29 games, then delivered a hat trick Dec. 12 in Chicago to kick off a 30-game stretch in which he delivered 16 goals and 24 points and seemed ready to reach the 20-goal mark for the first time in the NHL. But a lower body injury knocked him out of the lineup for two weeks and he finished the way he started, with just one goal in his final 13 games before going scoreless – like most of his teammates – in a first-round exit against the Islanders.

His bad injury luck, which included 25 games missed in 2016-17 and 13 the following season, followed Rust this fall when he injured his hand blocking a shot in the final preseason game Sept. 28 against Buffalo. Now, Rust is on the verge of finally opening his 2019-20 season, likely either Saturday in Dallas or next Tuesday at home against Philadelphia.

Where will he play? Go ahead, use your imagination. He’s not likely to join Crosby now that Dominic Simon has delivered points in six of his last eight games as the top line right wing, but he could end up as a left wing with Jared McCann and Patrick Hornqvist, or a right wing with Teddy Blueger and Zach Aston-Reese. Eased into the lineup as a left wing with Joseph Blandisi and Sam Lafferty? Hey, as we’ve seen, just about anything is possible, and Rust’s placement might also depend on whether Nick Bjugstad is also ready to return to the lineup.

But there is one thing we know for sure about Rust: he will be under pressure to bring all the elements of his game now that Brandon Tanev has found a home on the right wing depth chart with Simon and Hornqvist and Lafferty has opened eyes with an impressive first couple of weeks in the league – mostly playing on the right wing.

Lafferty and Tanev have also joined Blueger and Aston-Reese as penalty-killing forwards for coach Mike Sullivan, who gave Rust regular work there last season. Rust responded with a career-high four shorthanded points to fit nicely with his career-high 18 goals.

So this is life in the best league in the world: you deliver your best season and by the time you get back in another game that counts, you’ve heard the rumors you might be a trade piece and it’s not certain where you fit.

But Rust has a lot going for him. He’s not only got two Cup rings but a history of coming up big in big games along the way to both. He’s got a north-south game that fits perfectly the way Sullivan has his injury-plagued team playing through 11 games. He’s got the speed you need to succeed in today’s game, and he’s still fearless. That goes for taking pucks to the net and blocking shots in preseason games.

Rust’s return will take the competition for playing time up another notch for Lafferty, Aston-Reese and Dominik Kahun, who has been a bit better lately but is still looking for his first goal on a team that needs more production from him.

The Penguins also need more from Rust than he was able to provide late last season, so the challenge is squarely in front of him as his season is about to open.

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