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Capitals winger Conor Sheary has found a team that values ​​him ~ Washington

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Conor Sheary came to Washington almost two years ago to reinvent himself. Having endured a rough couple of seasons in Buffalo, he felt his confidence hit rock bottom just a few years after winning back-to-back championships with Pittsburgh in 2016-17.

He desperately needed to find an organization that valued his versatility and trusted him on both ends of the ice. He found that in Washington.

The Capitals signed Sheary – then an unrestricted free agent looking for a new home – to a one-year, $735,000 contract ahead of the 2020-21 season. It was a low-risk move for Washington — and it paid off.

Sheary, 30, has thrived in his role as a service provider with the Capitals. He re-signed with Washington on a two-year, $3 million contract in April 2021, and in one contract year this season he has seven goals, the second-highest on the team behind Alex Ovechkin’s nine.

Sheary will get another chance to improve his season results when Washington plays the Philadelphia Flyers at Capital One Arena on Wednesday. His last goal came in Washington’s 5-4 penalty shoot-out loss to St. Louis on Thursday.

The Capitals (7-10-3) are 2-6-3 in their last 11 games.

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“He makes plays out of thin air,” said Marcus Johansson, who also played with Sheary in Buffalo, of the winger. “He complements almost everyone. … I think it’s impressive to see him play. He’s quick, he’s skilful, he’s got the whole package.”

Sheary’s career began when Pittsburgh signed him as a free agent in July 2015. The undrafted winger spent his first three years in the NHL with the Penguins, playing in the top line with Sidney Crosby and winning two Stanley Cups. He had a 53-point campaign in 2016-17.

“Shears is probably on the quieter side, but since he’s been in the same row and played together over the years, he’s played the same way every night,” Crosby said. “He still does. He brings a lot of pace, plays hard and takes every opportunity and took the opportunity when he was called up. You knew what to expect from him and it’s been a lot of fun playing with him over the years.”

Carl Hagelin, who also played with Sheary in Pittsburgh, praised the winger’s innate ability to find weak spots on the ice, both to help teammates and to light the goal lamp himself.

“It’s not easy playing with superstars and if you don’t play well with them, they don’t want you in their line,” Hagelin said. “He obviously did something right.”

Sheary’s time in Pittsburgh ended in June 2018 when the Penguins traded him to the Buffalo Sabers in a paycheck. In Buffalo, Sheary said he felt his game slip. He made a brief return to Pittsburgh at the 2020 trade deadline, but the Penguins didn’t re-sign him, and Washington picked him up in the offseason.

“I don’t want to harp on about the time in Buffalo, but when I was there I didn’t have a clear role, I didn’t think so,” Sheary said. “I’ve been up and down the lineup, in and out of the lineup, [which] just messes you up a bit and when I got here I was able to stabilize in a certain role and play a certain role.”

Johansson said he also felt that his confidence was gone during his time with the Sabers. It was a combination of not seeing team results on the ice and not seeing individual play progress. Sheary’s confidence also faltered in Buffalo because he didn’t have much room to make mistakes on the ice.

“If you fit well together and build that confidence, it doesn’t mean you have to score every game,” Hagelin said. “It’s just that an average game doesn’t throw you off the lineup, and I think that’s what he felt in Buffalo.”

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Sheary averaged 16:23 ice time in Washington. He is also the most complete player since entering the league. He plays in all situations including power play, penalty shootouts, four-on-four, five-on-six and six-and-five.

“I definitely took the defensive side of the game a lot more seriously,” Sheary said. “Coming into the league I was … an attacking player and I wanted to play in the top six, and realizing that you have to play both sides to be successful, that helped me.”

Sheary’s penalty-taking ability was one of the most impressive parts of his game. Before coming to Washington, he didn’t get a chance to play shorthanded. Now he’s one of the Capitals’ greatest assets.

“He’s a really smart two-way player,” said Capitals coach Peter Laviolette. “It strikes me as odd that he never really had a chance there either. I can’t see anything missing from him because he’s someone we would have on the ice if it comes to winning a game.”

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Sheary said he prides himself on being steadfast on penalties and he’s learning the little ins and outs of unity with the help of fellow penalty specialists like Hagelin.

“I definitely have a lot more respect for the guys who’ve been at it a lot longer than I have,” Sheary said. “I think it’s a good thing. I think if I can add that to my arsenal and be successful in that area it can help me and I’ve enjoyed it so far.”

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