Through hard work and production Conor Sheary has turned an American Hockey League-only contract into a two-year (two-way) NHL deal with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
An undrafted free agent out of UMass (Amherst), Sheary signed with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins before the start of the AHL playoffs in 2013-14. Scoring 11 points (6G-5A) in 15 playoffs games put Sheary on the map for the Penguins, who watched the 5-foot-9, 175-pound winger record 45 points (20G-25) in 58 regular-season games during the 2014-15 season before lighting it up in the AHL playoffs for the second straight year.
For the past two seasons, he’s been the best player with WBS, especially in the playoffs.
Due to his breakout with WBS, Sheary will get the chance to prove his worth at the NHL level. The Pens and Sheary agreed to a new contract Wednesday, which will give him the opportunity to play in the NHL this season, something that the 22-year-old winger has worked towards his entire career.
“I knew they wanted me back, so it as kind of an easy decision for me once they offered what I felt I deserved,” Sheary said. “I’m very excited to be back. This is where I want to be and a place where I think I can develop very well … hopefully this is a start of better things for myself. “
Sheary isn’t the biggest guy at 5-foot-9, but he more than makes up for it with his solid two-way game. In fact, the former Minuteman takes pride in his defensive work, which will help him stick at the NHL level, hopefully for good.
“(Former WBS) coach (John) Hynes was obviously big on defense, and I really thrived on that.” Sheary said. “To teach me the right places to be, especially just knowing where to be in the D-zone in a game situation really helps you. The less defense you play the more offense you get to play. That’s something he taught everyone, me especially.”
While Sheary had to adjust to the demands of Hynes’ defensive system, the speedy winger never forgot who he was as an offensive player, rarely playing away from his strengths. Sticking to his game is what made the adjustment from college hockey to professional hockey that much easier for Sheary.
“Playing to strengths is a huge part of my game,” Sheary said. “I’m obviously not going to run around and put people through the boards or lay out everyone I see, but I mean, where there’s an opportunity to do that I’m going to do that.
“I know that I’m quick, I know that I can score, so when you get an opportunity to score you have to score.”
Finding the back of the net with regularity is what Sheary does best.
Near the top of the AHL in playoff points before the Manchester Monarchs eliminated the Pens, Sheary was the best player on the team. Besides leading WBS with 12 points (5G-7A) in eight playoff games, Sheary ranked fourth in playoff scoring.
In 23 career playoff games with the Pens, Sheary has exactly 23 points (11G-12A), which shows that he’s been able to elevate his play in big situations – something the Pens could use in the postseason.
“I can’t pinpoint one thing that it is I do differently in the playoffs,” Sheary said. It’s easier to play in the playoffs because it’s easy to get up for games…playoffs gives you a second energy and a second wind. It’s almost like you’re starting a new season, so I’ve been trying to play my best in the playoffs and trying to help the team win.”
Whether it’s starting a new chapter in his life or a new season, Sheary is ready to get back onto the ice and battle for everything he’s earned up to this point in his career. After signing the two-year deal, Sheary can’t wait to take a crack at making the NHL roster.
“Getting a chance is what I’m looking forward to the most,” Sheary said. “Obviously it’s not given to you, but getting an NHL contract is the first step towards that. Last year, if I played well and thought I deserved a call up, I knew I didn’t have that opportunity because I didn’t have that contract. This year, I’m hoping that I can play well and give myself that opportunity. I’m really looking forward to that. “