Published by hockeybuzz.com, 8-26-2018
5'8" 175 lbs.
26 yrs. old
Undrafted Free Agent (2014, PIT)
184 games | 48 goals | 45 assists | 93 points | +25
The easiest route here would have been to put recently acquired left-winger Jeff Skinner in this spot. If you subscribe to the theory of definitive 1-2-3-4 lines, then Skinner would make a lot of sense here as he's a much more proven talent than Conor Sheary. But there's a lot to be said for Sheary skating on the top line in Pittsburgh and how he might help formulate the top-six whilst skating alongside Buffalo's top center, Jack Eichel.
Sheary came out of UMASS-Amherst in April, 2014, had a two-game stint and an impressive playoff run of 11 points (6+5) in 15 games with Pittsburgh's AHL affiliate, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. He was signed to a minor league deal with the club that summer. In his first full season with the 'Baby Pens' the 5'8" 175 lb. Sheary had an impressive rookie campaign of 20 goals and 25 assists in 58 games and added 12 (5+7) points in eight playoff games for WBS which lead to a two-year entry-level, NHL deal.
In 2015-16 Sheary split the season between the two clubs, stuck with Pittsburgh for 44 games (seven goals, three assists) and was a bit of a revelation in the playoffs. The undrafted 23 yr. old proved he could skate with the big boys and contribute on the big stage with 10 points (4+6) in 23 games as the Pittsburgh won the 2016 Stanley Cup. Sheary followed that season up with an impressive campaign scoring 23 goals and adding 30 assists in 61 games while riding shotgun with one of the league's elite centers, and quite possibly the best player of his generation, Sidney Crosby.
Sheary entered last season with a new 3yr./$9 million deal but faltered a bit with only 30 points in 79 regular season games and was ineffective in the playoffs with only two assists in 12 games. Production like that coupled with a $3 million cap-hit on a team that needed cap-space led the Pens to deem Sheary expendable. Buffalo Sabres GM Jason Botterill, who was the 'Baby Pens' general manager when Sheary signed his first pro contract, sent a conditional fourth round pick to Pittsburgh for the winger plus reserve defenseman Matt Hunwick.
What Sheary was able to accomplish as an undrafted player that worked his way up was not lost on Botterill. "When people were saying he couldn't do it," said the GM to the gathered media after the trade, "he found a way to become an American Hockey League All-Star. Then he found a way to get to the National Hockey League and found a way to help Pittsburgh win Stanley Cups."
Botterill saw what Sheary had to offer first hand. He had watched Sheary play with Crosby and what he showed Botterill was that "[he] can play with one of our offensive centermen, finish off chances from them, but also get in on the forecheck, get pucks to our centermen." He also pointed out that Sheary could help Buffalo's woeful five-on-five scoring. "We were looking to improve our even-strength scoring and we had to try to get a little bit in scoring from our wingers," said Botterill. "He creates a lot of chances out there."
And there's the added bonus of playoff experience and of being in high-pressure situations. "He knows how to play in pressure situations against other teams' top defenders, top players," said Botterill. "We've talked a lot about here, bringing in players who have playoff experience. It's why we were interested in bringing in [Marco] Scandella and [Jason] Pominville last year. Bringing in both Hunwick and Conor, who have played in playoff games, is very key for our group."
Although at the time of the trade, which was before the Sabres traded for Skinner, Botterill said it wasn't a given that Sheary would be skating with Eichel but he did point out that he believed Sheary could be able to skate with any of Buffalo's centermen.
What it comes down to is fit and chemistry. Buffalo's top-two centers are Eichel and more than likely Casey Mittelstadt and in keeping with that projection, which wingers would pair up better with which center will be something to watch at training camp and into preseason. The fact that Sheary had played with, subjected himself to and succeeded along side a player of Crosby's stature might give an indication that he should be able to do the same with Eichel.
Which is why we've got him here.
Building the 2018-19 Buffalo Sabres roster:
LW, Conor Sheary / C, Jack Eichel