Bryan Rust has become an integral part of the Pittsburgh Penguins. His ability to play anywhere in the forward lineup, as well as on both the power play and penalty kill has raised his stock in the organization and around the league.
His success earned him a new six-year contract with the Penguins running through the 2027-28 season. While the Penguins will look to continue to utilize Rust to the best of his abilities next season, it may be more effective to hold off on using his services on the penalty kill.
Last season, the Penguins boasted one of the best shorthanded units in the entire league. They took away from that stacked unit by trading Zach Aston-Reese at the trade deadline and could lose another integral piece this summer depending on the status of veteran center Brian Boyle. Even with Boyle, Rust was tasked with more ice time on the man disadvantage towards the end of last season as his speed and skill make him a valuable asset in those situations.
His increased responsibility on the penalty kill didn't come without a price. Rust finished the season scoring four goals in the final 19 games following the trade deadline, for 0.21 goals per game. Comparatively, Rust scored 0.49 goals per game, collecting 20 goals in his first 41 games.
While his playing time remained constant, his shorthanded usage increased exponentially after the trade deadline. The Penguins currently have a surplus of penalty kill forwards under contract but not enough goal scorers. The only top-six caliber player outside of the Penguin's top line is Jason Zucker.
Even if the Penguins acquire one or two more scoring forwards this summer, Rust should be used sparingly on the penalty kill. The 30-year-old winger should be expected to start the season on the Penguin's top forward line and their top power play unit. In a league where scoring is becoming more prevalent every year, the Penguins need every bit of Rust's offensive potential.
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