On March 17th, 2014, Conor Sheary signed an ATO with the Wilkes-Barre Penguins of the AHL after the conclusion of his college career at UMass Amherst. His college statistics had dipped since his sensational sophomore year where he was just a shade under a point per game guy in the Hockey-East conference. The 5’8” skilled winger showed enough to receive an AHL contract where Sheary excelled, helping to lead the team to the conference finals with 11 points in 15 games. Sheary was then signed to a 2-year two-way deal where he spent the 2015-2016 season splitting time between dominating the AHL with .87 primary points per game (finishing 6th in the AHL among regulars, tied with the much younger William Nylander and Mikko Rantanen) and getting a taste for the pro game. His NHL coming out party came in the playoffs that season as he raised his first Stanley Cup. He carried this into his 2nd season of NHL play by having a sensational 53-point season in 61 games alongside Sidney Crosby on their way to a second Cup in as many years. The 24-year-old Sheary seemed to have all the makings of an analytics darling and ideal linemate for the future Hall of Famer. But, there was another name on the rise named Jake Guentzel who proved to be Crosby’s dance partner this past season. Sheary’s TOI dropped by a full 2 minutes per game and his point total was 23 fewer. At face value, one could say Sheary was a product of Crosby, but let’s take a deeper look into the numbers.
In 2017-2018 Conor Sheary had a total of 30 points in the regular season and 24 of them were primary points. This means he either had the 1st assist or scored the goal himself. There are times where the secondary assist was a skilled play, but often these can be attributed to luck. With his limited role, he had 1.31 primary points per 60 (P1/60) which is comparable to that of Jason Pominville at 1.28 P1/60 this past season. NOTE: Using P1/60 helps to level the playing field by dividing each point of primary output by a universal number rather than games played as each players ice time varies throughout the league. Comparing Sheary to Pominville is also interesting considering Jason had the most 5v5 time on ice with Jack Eichel of any player besides Evander Kane. If we take both 2016-2017 and 2017-2018 to give us a larger sample size of games Sheary’s P1/60 is 1.71 which is higher than Reinhart, O’Reilly, Evander Kane and the exact same as Jonathan Toews over the same period of time. These stats include time on the power-play as well as 3v3 OT, but if we look at the 5v5 numbers and we have Conor Sheary’s P1/60 at 1.55 from 2016 and until the end of the 2018 regular season.
1.55 P1/60 puts Sheary exactly 0.01 under the current NHL MVP Taylor Hall in terms of P1/60 with only 5v5 points. Of course, Taylor Hall with Sidney Crosby (or Connor McDavid for that matter) would have probably produced a much higher number here. All I’m saying is that Conor Sheary has proven to me he can produce in 5v5 situations. Sheary is not the first guy off the bench for 3v3 overtime and he could not crack arguably the best power-play in the NHL while in Pittsburgh, but Buffalo isn’t looking for either of those qualities out of him, to begin with. Ultimately, he was passed within a loaded organization by Guentzel who has proven to be a dynamic top-6 forward (remember how Sheary was 6th in AHL primary points per game? The next year, Guentzel led the entire AHL while being 3 years younger than Sheary at the time).Embed from Getty Images
The Penguins found themselves a late-blooming prospect in Sheary and were rewarded with a guy who helped to contribute to two Stanley Cups before asking for his payday. After disappointing during his first year on his $3 Million deal and with the rise of Jake Guentzel he became expendable. Jason Botterill clearly bought low on a player he knows intimately (as the architect of those WBS Penguins squads for the better part of the 2010 decade) who has proven he can produce with top talent.
“Hey DJ. Thanks for all the fancy numbers about what he’s done, but what can we expect from Sheary?”
I’m not going to make any bold predictions, but the 20 goals/40 pts condition on the draft pick seems reasonable. I can see a reason to believe he would be on a line with Eichel and Okposo. If we hold on to O’Reilly I could see him fitting in well with Reinhart and that unit which played exceptionally to end last season. I do not imagine he would slot in on the top power play, but he is a serviceable 2nd unit guy. He is by no means a penalty killer and there are concerns in his defensive-zone play in general. The Buffalo Sabres lacked secondary scoring last season and this is a guy who I believe will address this glaring need.