BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) See ya, Sid. Hello, Jack Eichel.
Once the shock of being traded wore off, Conor Sheary put aside his past of playing alongside Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, and began eagerly looking ahead to what might be in store with the Buffalo Sabres.
”I wasn’t expecting it, but at the same time you have to look at the positives,” Sheary said Thursday, a day after the Buffalo gave up a conditional fourth-round draft pick to acquire him and defenseman Matt Hunwick.
”I have to put my Pittsburgh years behind me now,” the third-year NHL forward said. ”I’m super excited with the new chapter in my life.”
In Buffalo, Sheary gets the opportunity to recreate his role as a play-making, two-way forward on a line centered by Eichel.
”When you’re playing with a guy like that, you kind of try to get him the puck as much as you can,” Sheary said.
”I think a big part of my game is creating turnovers and getting chances for my linemates,” he added. ”Hopefully, we can create some chemistry there. It’ll be awesome and maybe we’ll grow something with that.”
With two years left on his contract, Sheary was the odd-man out in Pittsburgh, which freed up $5.25 million in salary cap space in trading both players. The Penguins quickly used some of the savings to re-sign forward Riley Sheahan to a $2.1 million, one-year contract.
The Sabres, by comparison, lack play-making depth at their top-line wing positions, especially after trading Evander Kane to San Jose in February. Buffalo’s top three centers and Kane accounted for scoring 94 of the team’s league-worst 199 goals last season.
Five-on-five production was also an issue cited by general manager Jason Botterill as the reason he acquired Sheary. All but eight of Sheary’s 95 points in 184 career games have come in even-strength situations.
Another benefit for the rebuilding Sabres was adding a two-time Stanley Cup winner to a team that has finished last in three of the past five seasons.
”I think if I can just bring a little of that playoff experience to the locker room and try to change the culture, that’ll be a good thing,” said Sheary, who credited Crosby for being a mentor. ”He definitely taught me a lot. And I’ll definitely take that and use that to my advantage moving forward.”
Botterill previously served as the Penguins assistant GM and had a hand in signing Sheary, who was a late bloomer in part because scouts considered him too small at 5-foot-8 and 175 pounds. Undrafted after completing his college career at UMass, he signed an amateur tryout contract with the Penguins’ AHL affiliate in March 2014.
Two year later, Sheary made his NHL debut and eventually scored six goals, including a winner, and 10 points during Pittsburgh’s first of two championship runs.
After scoring 23 goals and 53 points in 61 games in 2016-17, Sheary’s production dropped last year, when he finished with 18 goals and 30 points in 79 games.
Sheary blamed the drop-off on a lapse in confidence that lead to a midseason slump in which he had three goals and six assists in 35 games. He closed the year with six goals and two assists in his final 15 games.
”I think toward the end of the year I finally found myself again,” he said. ”Although I didn’t score in the playoffs, I felt as though I was contributing. Hopefully, I can build on that going forward.”
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