Penguins Prediction Rewind: Bryan Rust landed in prime spot on top line
Last summer, beat writer Jonathan Bombulie made a series of predictions leading up to the start of the 2018-19 season. Some were OK. Some of them were hilariously off the mark. In this series, Bombulie will explain what he was thinking and where his logic went off course.
Which right wing will see the most time on the top line alongside Jake Guentzel and Sidney Crosby?
A. Patric Hornqvist
B. Dominik Simon
C. Daniel Sprong
D. Bryan Rust
E. None of the above
THE RIGHT ANSWER
• Crosby and Guentzel have the skill and scoring angle covered. They need a third wheel on their line who can play a smart game and do the little things right. That describes Simon better than it does Hornqvist or Sprong.
• In 2017-18, Guentzel-Crosby-Simon was effective in small doses. At even strength, it had a 60.6 shot-attempt percentage and 13-8 scoring advantage.
• Given the logjam of wingers on the right side and shortage on the left, Rust might be needed on his off wing.
A sample of Facebook comments:
• “Don’t you need to at least have a look at Sprong on Crosby’s right for an extended time (10+ games) before going back to what you already know (Horny, Simon and Rust)? Sprong has potential as a elite goal scorer – give it an early season shot and see what happens.”
• “I don’t know what I’m missing, Simon has shown no reason to be slotted as a top 6 forward.”
WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED
• Rust spent the most time as the right wing with Crosby and Guentzel, playing 461 even-strength minutes over the course of the season. Simon was second with 203 minutes. Hornqvist spent 108 minutes there. All three combinations were pretty much equally effective, being on the ice for about twice as many goals for as goals against.
• Late in the season, Jared McCann joined the top line, bumping Guentzel to the right side. They played together for about 118 even-strength minutes. Their results weren’t as impressive – the Penguins outscored opponents only 7-5 when they were on the ice together – but they looked dynamic and the underlying numbers paint a more favorable picture.
• The Sprong experiment was tried in exhibition games, but he saw a grand total of 3 minutes, 57 seconds of even-strength ice time with Crosby and Guentzel in the regular season before he was mercifully traded to Anaheim.
THE FLAWS IN THE LOGIC
• Any line Simon plays on tends to see an uptick in shot share, which is a great thing for skilled players such as Crosby and Guentzel. Simon, however, doesn’t produce much himself. When the rubber meets the road and the Penguins are struggling to score goals, coach Mike Sullivan is going to look for an option on the top line who can finish.
• For about half the season, Rust was finishing. In fact, he was on fire. From mid-December to mid-March, he averaged a goal every other game. It’s a chicken-and-egg argument, for sure, but that kind of production will earn a winger top line minutes.
There are no wrong answers to this question when Crosby and Guentzel are playing like they did last season. A wide variety of players would complement them just fine, and given Sullivan’s penchant for changing his line combinations, a wide variety of players will get a chance to moving forward.
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review assistant sports editor. You can contact Jonathan by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .