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For Rust, Being Mr. Versatility Certainly Has its Perks

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Pittsburgh Penguins winger Bryan Rust

Imagine heading out to work in the morning and your options are driving the Porsche or the BMW. OK, that’s out of our league for most of us. Not so much for Pittsburgh Penguins top-six winger Bryan Rust – at least metaphorically.

PHN asked Rust Thursday whether that was anything like knowing you are going to play with either Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin as your center, and he didn’t shoot down the comparison.

“It’s close,” he said of the luxury car metaphor. “Those are obviously two world-class players, two future Hall of Famers. I think each has their strengths and each has the way they want to play, and I think I’ve played here long enough and played with both of them long enough that I can kind of read and react with both of them.”

Rust in recent seasons has played more on the right side of the top line with Crosby and Jake Guentzel, while also logging some time next to Malkin. Lately, though, he has moved to Malkin’s flank, with Jason Zucker on the left. It’s possible that’s how the top two lines will look when the Penguins open the season Oct. 13 against Arizona.

The main reason for that seems to be that Rakell, in limited time on the top line, developed some chemistry with Crosby and Guentzel, while Rust, well, Rust is versatile enough to handle both spots.

A Mr. Versatility designation can be a bane in the workplace. As in, give that guy whatever odd assignments there are because he can do everything well.

Rust insisted that’s not the case with him and the Penguins.

“It just gives the coaching staff more options,” he said. “I don’t know if they’re throwing me into the dirty work or anything like that; I just think there are options – things that I can do, and places I can play.”

After all, it’s hardly a dig to be asked to play anywhere in the top six with the Penguins, given their talent.

Not to mention, it’s quite a steady journey that has brought Rust to this point. A third-round pick in 2010, he broke in to the NHL in 2014 with a handful of games in the role of a bottom-six guy who had topped out at 17 goals in 40 games with Notre Dame.

Except for some injury interruptions, his career has gone in one direction – up. He might not be Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin, but he’s established himself as Bryan Rust.

“That’s what I strive for,” Rust said. “There’s always something better. There’s always something else to get to. From my very first day in the league until now there’s always been something more to strive for. That’s kind of been my mindset.”

Rust has topped 20 goals each of the past three seasons, with a high of 27 in 55 games in 2019-20, and 24 in 60 games last season.

With a six-year, $30.75 million contract kicking in after brief negotiations last spring – “It was good that I was able to get on top of it quickly,” Rust said — could he match his age this season and reach 30 goals for the first time, regardless of which center he’s alongside?

He wouldn’t bite on that.

“Winning another Cup is the next goal,” he said. “Individually, obviously if things go well individually, that probably gives the team a chance to win, but I’m just kind of focused on team goals.”

 

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Shelly is a columnist and reporter for Pittsburgh Hockey Now. She was a Penguins beat writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and remains a contributor to The Hockey News. Catch her on Twitter @_shellyanderson

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