Getting a taste of the NHL last season showed Bryan Rust
he could play at the highest level of professional hockey. Scoring a goal in his second career game against the Tampa Bay Lightning only increased that belief for the 23-year-old forward.
Now, after his first season of professional hockey with the Penguins organization, Rust is ready to compete for a spot in Pittsburgh full-time as a member of the bottom-six.
“I’m hoping I can take one of those spots,” said Rust, who played 14 NHL games last season from Dec. 13-Jan. 15. “I’m not going to expect to be given anything, but I know I can work for that spot and if I play to the best of my ability I’ll give myself a better chance of getting one of those spots.”
Head coach Mike Johnston liked the energy the speedy Rust skated with and his ability to play with and protect the puck. At 5-foot-11, 192 pounds, Rust isn’t the most sizable guy but plays bigger than he is.
Although Rust hasn’t produced on the stats sheet like he wants to night after night, it’s the little things he does to consistently remain a threat in the lineup regardless of where he plays. But showing up on the stats sheet with a higher level of consistency is something Rust is working on heading into this season.
“I’ve just got to play my game and what makes me successful and do it consistently,” Rust said. “That’s what is going to keep me up here at this level, if I do earn a spot up here. That’s what I need to keep working on is being consistent and sticking with the way I play.”
Rust was, as assistant general manager Tom Fitzgerald likes to put it, a “marathon” prospect before last season – spending all four years of his collegiate eligibility at Notre Dame after being drafted in the third round (80th overall) in 2010.
The more intense schedule was the biggest on-ice adjustment at this level for Rust, who also tallied 27 points (13G-14A) before adding two goals in three Calder Cup playoffs games for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, who lost in the second round to the Manchester Monarchs.
“On the ice, it’s just the longer season,” Rust said. “You’re playing close to 100 games including exhibition and playoffs, whereas in college you’re only playing 40-50 games in a season, so it’s a grind.”
Off the ice, Rust had a lot more free time than he was accustomed to, and learning how to fill that was a challenge.
“In college you had classes and practices and all that, but in the pros you’re done by one o’clock every day, so you’re kind of trying to find stuff to do at first,” Rust said. “But then I got the hang of it.”
Having gone through that experience of learning what it takes to be a professional hockey player elevated Rust into a leadership role for many of the teenagers in attendance at prospect development camp last week.
“Obviously there’s a lot of young guys here who don’t know the ropes yet,” Rust said. “It’s kind of the role I’ve taken on during this camp to show guys what they should be doing on and off the ice, because off the ice is just as important as on the ice.”
“That is a huge part of our culture (pros taking guys under their wings),” Fitzgerald added. “These guys know what the standard is around here. They know what it means to put on a golf shirt with the Penguins logo, or the jersey. It’s their job and their responsibility to grow into leaders and pass that onto the young guys, making them understand what it means to be a Penguin, represent the city of Pittsburgh, and doing the right things.”
It seems that Rust has all of that down. But while he doesn’t want to make a big deal out of the leadership role he’s grown into at development camp, Rust can’t wait for the next six weeks leading into his second training camp with the Pens, one in which he hopes to push his way into the NHL on a full-time basis.
“I’m looking forward to being around so much excitement (in training camp),” Rust said. “I feel that after the next six weeks I’ll definitely have given myself the best opportunity to earn one of those (bottom-six) spots.”