PITTSBURGH – Almost five years ago, Conor Sheary’s pro prospects were dim.
After scoring nine goals and 28 points in 34 games as a senior in 2013-14, only one team showed interest in the diminutive University of Massachusetts product.
“I didn’t have any offers, really,” the speedy Buffalo Sabres winger said this afternoon inside PPG Paints Arena. “Pittsburgh was the only offer I had.”
Well, technically, it wasn’t even Pittsburgh. The Penguins’ affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton signed Sheary to an AHL contract.
“I got an AHL opportunity with them and was able to take advantage of that and then sign an NHL deal with them,” Sheary said prior to his first game here as a visitor. “I got to give them a lot of props. They gave me an opportunity to play in this league and was able to grow my game with this team, so a lot of good memories here.”
Sabres general manager Jason Botterill signed Sheary to his original contract when he was a Penguins assistant GM and also ran Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
Sheary, 26, said he will feel some nerves tonight. He packed a lot into three seasons with the Penguins, winning two Stanley Cups, playing 57 playoff games and scoring 48 regular-season goals. In 2016-17, Sheary spent most of the season as superstar Sidney Crosby’s linemate, scoring a career-high 23 goals in only 61 contests.
“It’s different,” Sheary said of playing in Pittsburgh with the Sabres. “It’s something I haven’t experienced before.”
Sheary also hadn’t experienced a trade until June 27, when the Sabres dished a conditional fourth-round pick to the Penguins for the former 20-goal scorer and defenseman Matt Hunwick.
“I think you’re not going to be happy when you get traded,” Sheary said. “It kind of feels like a team is saying they don’t want you anymore. I was really lucky to get a good opportunity with Buffalo, a team that did want me. Tonight is going to be a fun game for me.”
So far, Sheary has fit in well with Buffalo, scoring six goals and 10 points in his first 20 games while offering “speed and tenacity on the forecheck,” coach Phil Housley said.
“Guys really thrive when he’s on his game,” Housley said. “On the bench, guys see it, it’s infectious.”