There were rumors. There always are. Still Conor Sheary didn't expect to be traded. He got the call while he was driving home from the gym, telling him the Pittsburgh Penguins portion of his career was over and he was now a Buffalo Sabre.
"The reaction initially was shock," Sheary said. "I wasn't expecting it but at the same time you have to look at the positives."
And Sheary seemed ready and excited to share those positives with reporters Thursday afternoon as he spoke via conference call.
He was part of a trade Sabres General Manager Jason Botterill made on Wednesday, acquiring Sheary along with defenseman Matt Hunwick for a conditional 2019 fourth-round pick.
He's going from an organization which signed him out of UMass-Amherst in 2014, where he won two Stanley Cups and often played beside Sidney Crosby to the team that finished last in the National Hockey League.
But the 26-year-old winger sees nothing but possibility.
"I think they have the pieces in place there," Sheary said. "If the young players play up to their potential, we can build around them I think."
"I’m super-excited to get started in Buffalo," he said. "At some point you have to move on from one team. I kinda grew up in Pittsburgh but I think Buffalo will be a great opportunity for me to grow as a player and to get the opportunity to play my game a little more."
His game, as he describes it, is to create turnovers with his speed and his stick. That creates scoring chances for his teammates and that's why the Sabres will likely put him on a line with center Jack Eichel.
"I don't know him," Sheary, a native of Winchester, Mass., said of Eichel. "He is a Boston guy so I feel like I should. Just obviously playing against him, he's a super-skilled player and he skates pretty effortlessly out there. I think when you play with a guy like that, you try to get him the puck as much as you can. Part of my game is creating turnovers and getting chances for my linemates. If we develop chemistry maybe we'll grow something with that."
Sheary has a classic blue-collar hockey story. He went undrafted and played four years at UMass-Amherst. The Penguins, with Botterill as GM of their AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, signed him to an Amateur Tryout contract at the end of his college season in 2014. He played a full AHL season in 2014-15 before splitting the next between Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and Pittsburgh.
He then was an NHL regular.
"I was obviously an undersized player," the 5-8 forward said. "Being undrafted sometimes can hurt your stock a little bit. When I signed my first contract, I was just excited to play for another year. When I got my first NHL contract and proven myself a little bit, I knew I could do this for a living."
But the living isn't an easy one.
After notching 53 points two seasons ago with the Penguins, scoring 23 goals with 30 assists, his production dipped. Last year, he had just 30 points with 18 goals and 12 assists.
"Early on in the year I felt I was playing my game then I went through a tough 40-game stretch where I wasn't doing much, wasn't creating chances," Sheary said. "I think I just got away from my game and lost a little confidence. An important thing in this game is to play with confidence and stick with your game. At the end of the year, I found myself again. I didn't score in the playoffs, but I felt I was contributing and helping the team win."
The struggle taught him plenty, and he brings those lessons to the Sabres, where players are still feeling out how to work out of a low-confidence lull that's bound to come during a long season.
Sheary also brings the experience of a winning locker room, lessons on what it takes to not only make the playoffs but win in the playoffs.
And that's one intangible the Sabres have been looking for.
"I think the experience I have there will help me tremendously," Sheary said. "I'll bring a little of that experience and playoff experience to the locker room and try to change the culture. There's a lot of young players and really good players in the Buffalo system right now. If I could just be a leader in a way on the ice and in the locker room, that will help the team out for sure."