Sabres General Manager Jason Botterill went back to his roots, both in the NHL and college, for his first big deal of the offseason.
Botterill acquired Pittsburgh winger Conor Sheary and Penguins defenseman Matt Hunwick for a conditional 2019 fourth-round pick on Wednesday, just before the start of the team's summer development camp in HarborCenter. Hunwick played at the University of Michigan a few years after Botterill did.
Sheary, 25, often played left wing with Sidney Crosby in Pittsburgh and is likely to get the first chance to do likewise with Jack Eichel here. Hunwick, 33, could be a big help to the growth of No. 1 overall pick Rasmus Dahlin.
"What I've always liked about Conor's game is he's played in playoff games and had success, winning two Stanley Cups in Pittsburgh," Botterill said during the break between camp sessions. "I think especially at even-strength, he creates a lot of chances out there so I'm very excited to bring him to the organization.
"Matt Hunwick is a player I've followed closely over the years, just from the ties from the University of Michigan and how he handles himself as a pro. His mobility on the blueline will help out our group."
Sheary is a rags-to-riches story that Botterill helped write from his days as Pittsburgh's assistant GM. He signed Sheary to an amateur tryout contract with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the AHL in 2014 and Sheary had 20 goals for the Baby Penguins in 2014-15.
Sheary made it to Pittsburgh the next season and was a second-half key to the Pens' Stanley Cup run, scoring the overtime-winning goal in Game 2 of the Cup final against San Jose.
Sheary had 23 goals and 30 assists in 2016-17 as the Pens won their second straight Cup, although he had just two goals in 22 playoff games. His production tailed off this year to 18 goals and 12 assists in 79 games.
Sheary has scored 37 of his 41 goals the last two years at even strength, an area the Sabres need plenty of help with. On the current Buffalo roster, that's the most (Eichel has 36 in that span).
Still, Botterill tapped the brakes on immediately anointing Sheary as Eichel's winger.
"Look, to me, until players get on the ice you're never going to know that for sure," the GM said. "We're always looking to add to our group. Especially on the wing to add more skill."
"Pittsburgh gave this kid a chance, signing him out of college as a free agent," Sheary's agent, Lewis Gross, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "They gave him the opportunity to win two Cups. We can’t thank them enough. And we’re excited about the new opportunity."
Hunwick's agent is Peter Fish, who is also the representative for Eichel.
“I think Buffalo needs some speed on their back end,” Fish told the Post-Gazette. “Obviously they’re going to get that with their first-round pick [Rasmus Dahlin]. Jason Botterill is a Michigan guy. He’s always known that Matt has been a good player. He’s got great character. I think they’re looking to help change that culture up there.”
The draft pick in the deal is conditional, meaning that it could switch from a fourth-rounder to a third-rounder next June in Vancouver. According to TSN, that would happen if Sheary scores 20 goals or posts 40 points, or if Hunwick is traded by the Sabres before the 2019 draft.
No salary was retained by Pittsburgh in the deal and both Sheary ($3 million and Hunwick ($2.25 million) are signed for two more seasons.
Botterill said the trade market remains fluid but scoffed at reports that a three-way deal for Ryan O'Reilly was done at the draft between the Sabres, Montreal and the New York Islanders that would have landed O'Reilly with the Habs and Buffalo with the No. 12 pick in the draft.
"You have a ton of rumors out there right now on Ryan and I think a lot of them are very creative," Botterill said. "I would just say from Day One we've been very happy with Ryan being a part of our group and we've said before it's no surprise teams are calling on him."