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 prior to Monday’s 5-4 come-from-behind overtime win against the Penguins 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 would feel some nerves Monday. 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.”
So far, Sheary has fit in well with Buffalo, scoring six goals and 11 points in his first 21 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.”
Sheary received a loud ovation when the Penguins honored him with a tribute video during a break in the first period. He later had an assist.
Housley, who said he put rookie Rasmus Dahlin and Zach Bogosian together for “balance” Saturday, kept the defense pair intact.
“The minutes were spread out really well, (assistant coach) Steve Smith did an excellent job because (of) that short turnaround,” Housley said. “I really liked their game, obviously. They move the puck, it’s good to have (Dahlin) back on the left side. Bogo’s an experienced veteran who’s playing really well right now.”
Bogosian had occasionally played beside Dahlin for short stretches before Saturday.
“Anytime we’ve played together throughout the season, whether it was a few shifts or a period, we seem to have chemistry,” Bogosian said. “It felt nice to get a whole game together.”
Former Sabres center Derek Grant played his ninth game for the Penguins.
Since leaving Buffalo after the 2016-17 season, Grant, 28, has made 75 NHL appearances. He spent all of last season with the Anaheim Ducks, playing 66 games and scoring his first 12 NHL goals.
“I played everywhere from fourth line to first line last year,” Grant said of his first start-to-finish big league campaign.
Grant endured an odd season with the Sabres, making the team out of training camp before the Nashville Predators claimed him on waivers.
The Sabres then reclaimed him weeks later. In 46 games between the two clubs, Grant scored zero goals. He ended the season with the Rochester Americans.
“It was a bit of a whirlwind year, for sure, but I had a lot of fun with it,” Grant said.
Grant recently cleared waivers and spent five games in the AHL.
Notes: Winger Jason Pominville tied Rick Martin on Monday for ninth place on the Sabres’ all-time games list with his 681st appearance. … The Sabres scratched defenseman Nathan Beaulieu and forwards Remi Elie and Evan Rodrigues. … Monday was Sabres winger Jeff Skinner’s 600th NHL game. … The Penguins have hired Craig Patrick, their general manager when they Cups in 1991 and 1992, as a pro scout, the team announced Monday. Patrick briefly served as a special assistant and advisor to the hockey department for the Sabres several years ago.