Conor Sheary was a key acquisition in the Buffalo Sabres' roster makeover this summer, both for his scoring ability and the impact he could have in the dressing room.
The 26-year-old arrived in Buffalo with 48 goals and two Stanley Cups rings already under his belt in two and a half NHL seasons. He played in all but three of the Pittsburgh Penguins' playoff games in their back-to-back Cup runs in 2016 and 2017, often playing on Sidney Crosby's wing.
So far, he's performed as advertised. Sheary's tallied 10 points (6+4) through his first 18 games as a Sabre, including five in his last five games (3+2). He spoke with Sabres.com on Thursday ahead of the team's three-game road trip, which will culminate in his return to Pittsburgh on Monday night.
You were brought in over the summer when a lot of people were talking about changing the culture. Carter Hutton has said that he felt a good vibe when he arrived in August. Did you feel that way?
I mean, most importantly, I think the guys they kept around over the summer were really good, character guys. They're our leaders in our locker room, guys we rely on. I think last year, everyone thinks that just because they were last in the league you have a lot of bad players.
There's a lot of really good players and a lot of really good leaders. I think with the new faces we brought in, a little bit of youth in our lineup, I think we've just come in with a little bit of a new energy.
Jason Botterill spent 10 seasons in the Pittsburgh front office. Whether it's the roster composition or the attitude in the dressing room, have you seen any similarities in how he's built this team?
It's hard to do. When you're in Pittsburgh you've got a lot of high-end talent that you don't find every day so it's hard to build it like that. But I think as far as the stuff that people maybe don't see, I think he's doing a good job of incorporating some things that they did that maybe make our team better. Good, character people I think is a thing he looks for. I think he's done a really good job of that.
Veterans have described the first day of camp this year as being one of the toughest practices they've been a part of. What was your initial impression?
It was a hard day. I might have had one of the highest heart rates on the team, but I think it's good for us. I think it was maybe a wake-up call that we need to work that hard throughout the year to be successful. After that day, I think it all got easier, so that's a good thing. But yeah, it was a pretty hard day.
Has that become the standard now?
Yeah, I think so. I think if we can bear down for an hour a day or not even that during our practices it can really translate into games. So far, early in the season, I think we've been doing a good job of that.
The Frozen Four is in Buffalo this year. Is UMass (Sheary's alma mater) going to be there?
It looks like it right now. They're playing really well. I mean, it's been a long time since they've been in the tournament so, as an alumni, it'd be nice to see them get in there.
Has anything about Buffalo surprised you away from the rink?
Surprised me? Wow. I mean, the food's really good in Buffalo. I always compare it to Pittsburgh because Pittsburgh had really good food but Buffalo's right there on par with it I think.
Would you take a plate of wings or a Primanti Bros sandwich if both were sitting in front of you?
Plate of wings, for sure. I didn't eat many Primanti sandwiches when I was there.
Have you given any thought to what your return to Pittsburgh will be like on Monday?
Yeah, I think it will probably be an emotional night for me. It's going to be different getting dressed and sitting on the other side of the rink. I talked to a former player who played there this year and he said it was just kind of a weird feeling, not being in a Pittsburgh uniform. Once you get that first one out of the way, I think it will be a lot better. But this first one will be special.
Video: Goalies look ahead
Patrik Berglund appears set to return to the lineup after sitting as a healthy scratch against Tampa Bay on Tuesday. Berglund practiced on a line centering Vladimir Sobotka and Jason Pominville, replacing Evan Rodrigues.
Berglund also skated on the top power-play unit with Jeff Skinner, Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart and Rasmus Dahlin. It marks the third time Housley has tweaked the lineup during the team's three-game winning streak, which is reflective of the fact that the Sabres feel they can still clean up their game.
Here's how the full lineup looked at practice:
53 Jeff Skinner - 9 Jack Eichel - 23 Sam Reinhart
43 Conor Sheary - 37 Casey Mittelstadt - 21 Kyle Okposo
17 Vladimir Sobotka - 10 Patrik Berglund / 71 Evan Rodrigues - 29 Jason Pominville
28 Zemgus Girgensons - 22 Johan Larsson - 72 Tage Thompson
19 Jake McCabe - 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
4 Zach Bogosian - 6 Marco Scandella
82 Nathan Beaulieu - 26 Rasmus Dahlin
81 Remi Elie* - 8 Casey Nelson
40 Carter Hutton
35 Linus Ullmark
*Extra forward skating on defense