National Hockey League’s COVID-19 suspension, Pittsburgh Penguins Play like they were in first place. They’ve won 10 of their last 11 games, including a 6-2 win at Pennsylvania on Thursday night. The Penguins’ winning streak clearly demonstrates how important each member of the team has been and has created a team of unsung heroes. With some of their big names currently out of the lineup, many have stepped out of their traditional team roles and into the spotlight as the Pens have risen in the rankings.
Perhaps no player has been more important to the Penguins’ recent success Brian Rust, one of their pending UFAs. Recently returned from injury, his fiery scoring speed has made him the team’s most valuable player.
Rusty record when lighting
Rust leads the Penguins through the first three games of 2022, adding some extremely elite companies along the way. He now has 11 points in those three games, along with Penguins legend Mario Lemieux and “The Great” himself, Wayne Gretzky in the first three games of the calendar year highest score. Rust has scored multiple goals in three of the past four games, including two in Thursday’s game against the Philadelphia Flyers. Rust served as a top-line catalyst in that game, as he also added an assist in Jack Gunzel’s 18th game of the season.
“The extra practice I did in the postponed games, I think it helped a lot,” Rust said. “Thinking about being able to get those reps, get my line chemistry back, get my confidence back, shoot, play, that sort of thing, I think it really goes a long way.” (from “Rust on the way to beating the Flyers” Continue the ‘hot’ pace.” Taylor Haase. DK Pittsburgh Sports. July 1, 2022. )
Rust’s attitude shows how much his recent efforts should be rewarded, and three consecutive multi-goal matches are an excellent way to make it happen.
Rust works at a high level even with interruptions
Given Rust’s blistering pace of scoring lately, you’d be forgiven for believing that he’s had regular minutes throughout the season. In fact, those last four games (three of which were wins) were the only ones he played after sustaining a lower-body injury in a warm-up game before the Penguins’ game against the New York Islanders on Nov. 26. Rust and other injured teammate Jake Guentzel only returned to practice on Dec. 20, which coincided with the league’s holiday/COVID-19 suspension. Teammate Zach Aston-Reese commented on how much the team missed the two players, saying:
“Good to see Jack out there laughing and laughing, and Rusty. Good to see those guys back. Anytime one goes down, it [stinks]. but when it’s a top six player like Rusty or Guentzy, it [stinks] Even. “
Penguins forward Zach Aston-Reese in the absence of Bryan Rust and Jake Guentzel. (From “Jake Guentzel, Bryan Rust Returns to Penguin Camp.” Matt Vensel. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. December 20, 2021. )
The compliments Rust received from teammates during his extended absence speaks volumes about his importance to the Penguins locker room and the franchise’s success.
Rust’s Importance Forces Difficult Offseason Decisions
Even before his recent boom, Rust was very important to the Penguins’ success. He has been a key contributor since his debut in 2014. He was a key member of the Penguins’ consecutive Stanley Cup wins in 2016 and 2017. Rust is playing the final year of a four-year, $40 million deal and is one of the team’s most pending unrestricted free agents (UFAs).
With 14 pending free agents for the Penguins, general manager (GM) Ron Hextall will soon have to decide who to bring back and who to let go.
Hextall’s decision is of particular interest because these expiring contracts include two of the team’s “big three” (Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang).A new contract with Rust should be a priority, but Hextall needs do something big and convincing To clear its cap space. To prove that Rust’s contract is indeed a priority, it’s likely that either Malkin or Letang will have to take a pay cut. Preliminary talks on a Rust contract never really materialized, and Penguins management had to figure out a way to keep Rust in the picture, especially with Hextall’s pending decision on Malkin and Letang’s contracts.
Rust has considerable sway over his future, as his stellar performance and consistent presence on the top line — along with his stellar resume — could easily make a lot of difference if he enters free agency. team’s interest. If the Penguins truly believe Rust is a big part of their future, they need to show him; not just in the sense of signing him to a new contract, but also as a star player he’s developing treat.
The Penguins are entering a period where they will have to make a number of extremely important contract decisions this offseason, and the combination of Bryan Rust’s seemingly unstoppable scoring ability of late and his teammates’ attitude toward him means he deserves a share. The contract extension reflects his value.
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