The Evolution of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Bryan Rust

The Pittsburgh Penguins’ current situation seems a bit rocky. With a number of players out and injured, they need to lean on the remaining players to push them through this hard time. Right now, a good player to lean on would be Bryan Rust.

After coming back from an early-season injury, Rust has tallied 13 points in 12 games thus far and has made many game-deciding goals just in this season. But his journey with the Penguins started in 2014, and since then, he has accumulated 127 points during his six-season career.

He currently has had a streak of success with the Penguins and is performing well, being highly productive and skilled. With this in mind, how has he developed from a one-goal rookie into a playoff hero and then into one of the most consistent players on the Penguins?

Early Career

Before stepping up to play in the NHL, Rust played with the University of Notre Dame during his college years and then with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in the American Hockey League. After some time in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Rust was called up into the big leagues, where he would start a fast-growing career.

Penguins Bryan Rust
Pittsburgh Penguins’ Bryan Rust (Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)

He did not perform at his current level during his first few games but Rust managed to score his first goal with the Penguins in 2014 during his third ever NHL game. That would be his only goal for the 14 games he played in his first year, but 2016 would prove to be a bigger year for him.

Playoff Performance

After scoring a handful of goals before the 2016 playoffs, Rust managed to become a hero for the Penguins and their fans. He scored the two goals that would lead the team past the Tampa Bay Lightning and to the Stanley Cup Final, which the Penguins would eventually win.

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This pattern continued into the 2017 playoffs, as Rust had racked up about six goals, all scored during elimination situations and resulting in two-goal games for the forward. He then was deemed “Mr. Elimination” – a name given to him by the fans because he would score goals in Game 7s of the Stanley Cup Playoffs preventing the elimination of the Penguins. While his performances during the playoffs have been fantastic, his style of play has contributed great success for the Penguins.

Style of Play

Rust has a bit of grittiness to him; he plays with urgency, but also he relies on his dynamic skills to make important plays and take rare opportunities to win close games. His speed and desire to control the puck really sets him apart from other players but is comparable to Carl Hagelin’s or Brandon Tanev’s.

Bryan Rust
Bryan Rust (Photo: Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

However, Rust has not always been a consistent player. He actually deemed last year as “wildly inconsistent” after finishing the season with 35 points in 72 games and after being injured for a bit of time in Feb. 2019.

Wildly inconsistent, I’d say, that’s something that I’d like to improve on moving forward, whether I’ve got to take some sort of different mental approach to try to dial in the whole year as far as trying to deal with confidence ups and downs, things like that – that’s definitely something I’m going to try and correct.

Bryan Rust

He also described inconsistencies with the team, but after his 21-game goal drought, his own play was of more concern for him. With this in mind, Rust has seemingly improved upon his own consistency issues.

Rust’s Hotstreak

Right now, Rust has been producing just about a point per game, which is definitely more consistent than last year. But also, something that has definitely been evident – even if doesn’t reflect in wins – is Rust’s hunger to play and play well.

His speed is so evident and he’s hard to play against because he can tracks pucks down. He can strip defensemen from behind and that’s what he brings to this team. And he has the ability to score. He’s finishing for us but his second effort is impressive.

Coach Mike Sullivan
Penguins right wing Bryan Rust
Penguins right wing Bryan Rust (Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)

He manages to make goals at the right time, but he also helps his teammates take advantage of chances as well. His versatility has proven longevity, but also, his own self-awareness helped spark this season’s success as well. As long as he doesn’t get injured in upcoming games, I can imagine that Rust will continue to evolve and contribute to more wins.