Despite his newly-earned wealth, Bryan Rust couldn't buy a goal earlier this season. Rust, a third-round pick out of Notre Dame in 2010, had ascended to become a key member of two Stanley Cup-winning teams thanks to his speed, transition game, turnover-inducing defense and penalty-killing prowess. The Penguins rewarded him this past June with a four-year contract extension that carries an average annual value of $3.5 million. And then, the net shrank.
Rust wasn't a huge scoring threat early on in his career (he averaged 0.18 goals per game from 2014-15 to 2017-18), but that looked like Mario Lemieux in his prime compared to his start to the 2018-19 campaign. He had just one goal in his first 29 games, with a whopping 2.8 shooting percentage through the month of November. GM Jim Rutherford didn't call out Rust by name, but he strongly suggested around that time that some of the Baby Pens who had provided such a strong complement to the team's core stars had tailed off and perhaps become complacent.
Since then, whatever alchemy of attitude, lack of confidence or just plain bad luck was ailing Rust has vanished. The net, once pea-sized, looks gargantuan. For a Penguins team that needs every point it can get, Rust has transformed into a critical secondary scoring threat while reaching new offensive heights.