Left Wing--Conor Sheary
DOB: June 8, 1992 (age, 26)
Draft: Undrafted Free Agent, 2014 (AHL ATO, Wilkes-Barre Scranton) 2015 (NHL, PIT)
How acquired: Trade with Pittsburgh, June 27, 2018
Last contract signed: 3yr./$9 million, June 30, 2017
Final year of contract: 2019-20
2018-19 Stats: 78 games | 14 goals | 20 assists | 34 points | -18 | 14:37 ATOI
Career Stats: 262 games | 62 goals | 65 assists | 127 points | +7 | 13:54 ATOI
What we wrote preseason
: The easiest route here for building the roster would have been to put recently acquired left-winger Jeff Skinner [on the top line]...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.
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, he did point out that he believed Sheary could be able to skate with any of Buffalo's centermen. What it will come 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.
What we wrote mid-season
: Botterill needed to bolster the left wing position and his first move was to acquire Sheary from the Pittsburgh Penguins. Sheary was a known quantity as Botterill had 10 years in the Penguins front office prior to becoming Buffalo's GM. He knew Sheary brought speed and was tenacious on the puck and he also was familiar with a player who could play along side a superstar like Sidney Crosby and light the lamp for 40 goals over two full seasons. Sheary was on the outs in Pittsburgh as his stat-line dipped and Botterill was happy to bring him aboard. Although Sheary is always in overdrive, he runs hot and cold in the scoring department. He was solid out of the gate with six goals in 16 games but has only one in his last 17 games. The Sabres need some consistent production at left wing outside of Skinner and it was hoped Sheary could be that guy. He still could be, but we're really not sure.
Impressions on his play this year
: First off, the fact that Sheary and his 34 points was fourth on the team amongst forwards in scoring is indicative of the struggles Buffalo faced with their middle six this season. Sheary was bumped up to the top line with Eichel and Sam Reinhart after the Sabres were shut out 4-0 at home by the Boston Bruins on opening night and the move paid off as he would chip in three goals and an assist as the Sabres went 3-1-0 in their next four games. However, then he went cold and was dropped down in a lineup shuffle at San Jose.
Sheary has a lot of great attributes like his dart-like skating and his relentless pursuit of the puck. He has a very capable shot, also has good vision in a setup role and can score at even strength (10 of his 14 goals.) He can also play with virtually anyone. One of Buffalo's best lines mid-season was Sheary, the versatile Evan Rodrigues at center and Reinhart and even though they didn't score a lot they displayed plenty of chemistry and actually looked the part of a viable second line, something we really hadn't seen to that point in the season.
At $3 million and with one more year on his contract, Sheary offers up enough versatility to be moved up and down the left side and he showed he can hold his own up with Eichel, at least for a handful of games. Most in Buffalo could probably live with Sheary in a third-line LW/second-unit PP role and if the team ends up adding more to the top-six while eventually smoothing things out, he could end up being an 18-20 goal scorer. Just don't expect consistent production game-in, game-out.
Questions moving forward
: Can he become a 20-goal/40-point player for the Sabres next season?
Contract info via CapFriendly, stats via sabres.com and hockey reference.com.