The NHL salary cap this year is $79.5M. On a roster with 23 players, the average player is receiving $3.46M. Bryan Rust’s cap hit is $3.5M, thus making him an average salaried player.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say Rust is one of the most vital players on the team. In fact, if you say (in some order) that Crosby, Malkin, Kessel, Guentzel, Letang, Dumoulin, Schultz, Maatta, Hornqvist, DeSmith, and Bjugstad are more important, then Rust would be 12th on that list — right in the middle.
But what he lacks in flash, Bryan Rust makes up for it with steadiness and hard work. In his three years at the NHL level as a main player, Rust has scored 0.26, 0.19, and 0.27 goals per game, an average of 0.24 over the past three seasons. Over an 82-game full season, that’s good for 20 goals.
The problem with Rust is that he’s never even come close to a full season, due to a litany of injuries he’s suffered. He just recently returned from a 9 game absence with a ‘lower body’ injury. If Rust plays every remaining game this year, he’ll hit a career-high of 72, which would be three more than his current high of 69. Nice. His smallish frame, coupled with an interest in playing a physical game at a high rate of speed, lends itself to a proclivity of injuries.
Rust has not let the bright lights of the playoffs wilt his production, either. In his past three playoff years, he’s averaged 0.26, 0.30, and 0.25 goals per game, an even higher 0.27 goals/game average than his regular season rate. Even more interesting, his shooting percentage of 17.8% in the playoffs is well above his 10.8% in the regular season. Some of his goals during the back-to-back Cup years were key goals at key times.
Bryan Rust can play on any line that Mike Sullivan chooses to deploy him. He’s a low maintenance player that doesn’t need a certain amount of minutes to get into the flow of the game and makes no demands on his linemates. He kills penalties and is willing to sacrifice his own game to make others productive.
He’s not a star. You won’t see a lot of #17 Rust jerseys at PPG Paints Arena. But Bryan Rust is like that one little gear in a fine Swiss watch. He enables the rest of the team to do their jobs more efficiently, while completing his own tasks with no complaint.
If Rust could only staff healthy for a full regular season, perhaps we would all be able to see his full potential.