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Injuries, Droughts, & Contracts; 3 Penguins with Most to Prove



Pittsburgh Penguins, Tristan Jarry, Marcus Pettersson

The Pittsburgh Penguins did a figurative faceplant to cap the 2022-23 NHL season. With a playoff spot within easy reach, they couldn’t put away one of the worst teams in the league, Chicago who was playing the second of back-to-back games. It was the most glaring failure of the season, but hardly the only one.

The silver lining was getting the 14th overall pick in a deep draft and well-regarded new management.

The organization turned the page this summer by hiring a new president of hockey operations, Kyle Dubas, who seems to have restored some optimism and vitality to it.

While the roster and depth charts are overflowing, there are a few more players with something to prove after lackluster seasons, campaigns that didn’t meet expectations, or who must push through the current limitations of their game to a more established level of productivity.

Top 3 Penguins with Something to Prove

1.  Bryan Rust

Rust, 31, scored 20 goals and was a fixture in the Penguins’ top-six rotation with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin last season. However, he scored only 46 points and was a minus-4, statistically making it his least productive season since 2018-19.

In May, 2022, Rust signed a five-year contract, perhaps a touch under market value, to remain with the Penguins. Since he cracked the 20-goal barrier in 2019-20, Rust had been an offensive force for the team and had not posted fewer than .39 goals per game in his previous three seasons.

In fairness, he probably was hampered a bit by extra penalty-killing work.

However, Rust appeared to be a tad slower last season, and his offense was down, but his paycheck went up. Like many Penguins, he fought through a subpar season. With four more years on his deal and a no-movement clause for two more years, the Penguins need their gritty speedster with a nose for the net to return to peak form.

Rust is an offensive catalyst and a primary forechecker, creating offensive opportunities and possession for the top lines, but the Penguins need Rust to pop more than 20 goals and 50 points.

2. P.O Joseph

Joseph didn’t have a subpar season and has nothing to “bounce back” from. However, he didn’t firmly cement his place in the Pittsburgh Penguins’ lineup.

The 24-year-old defenseman will be an RFA with arbitration rights next summer, so he has a little extra incentive and pressure, too. Joseph has all the skills to be a commanding defender: speed, vision, offensive awareness, and a long reach should serve him well.

Yet he could drive significantly more offense and puck-possession. A lot more. A good season will earn him a valuable contract. A so-so season could put him in danger of not receiving a qualifying offer if his expected salary exceeds expected production.

Last season, Joseph had only 21 points in 75 games, which placed him fifth among Penguins defensemen, behind less offensively inclined d-men Brian Dumoulin and Marcus Pettersson.

Perhaps, Joseph has held himself back. He’s flashed brilliant potential, but hasn’t seized on it often enough. The coming season is his chance to firmly put his feet in the NHL, rather than middling as a third-pair defenseman being one step ahead of the cutdown list.

3. Tristan Jarry

Five years is a long time.

The Penguins goalie, who battled, suffered, and fought through significant injury through the latter stages of the 2021-22 season and a new set of ailments in the 2022-23 season, is the Penguins’ starting goalie for the foreseeable future.

The team committed five years and $5.375 million annually to the talented netminder, who had one brilliant stretch last season. Jarry was 11-0-2 from Nov. 17 through Dec. 22, but otherwise scuffled and battled nagging injuries.

The good news is the Penguins feel the injuries can be dealt with if not solved. Yet Jarry must rebound from his .909 save percentage and not being at his best when the team sorely needed it.

Jarry, 28, showed his fortitude by playing on a badly injured ankle in Game 7 of the 2022 Round One loss to the New York Rangers. He was at least a month away from being healthy, but stepped forward for his team.

Guys don’t forget those things, but Jarry will be called upon this coming season to get the Penguins back to the playoffs.

Jarry needs a big-time season to alleviate fears and get the fans back on his side. Pittsburgh likes to blame quarterbacks and goalies, and another season aboard the struggle bus could also galvanize fan angst against him, making PPG Paints Arena an uncomfortable place to play.

A good season by Jarry most likely returns the Penguins to the playoffs.

A bad season? Oh, boy …