BUFFALO, N.Y. — Sabres general manager Jason Botterill is drawing from his championship past in Pittsburgh to provide a boost in Buffalo.
The Sabres improved their top-six forward ranks by acquiring Conor Sheary and defenceman Matt Hunwick in a trade with Pittsburgh on Wednesday. The Penguins obtained a conditional 2019 fourth-round pick that could improve to a third-rounder in move that frees up $5.5 million of space under their salary cap before the NHL’s free-agency period opens Sunday.
Sheary was the key to the deal for Botterill. He’s the former Penguins assistant GM who watched the undrafted player develop in making the jump from signing a minor-league tryout contract to winning two Stanley Cup titles playing alongside Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby.
“When people were saying he couldn’t do it, he found a way,” said Botterill, who had a hand in signing Sheary in 2014. “That sort of determination and compete and work ethic something we’re looking to bring to our group.”
Sheary is a dependable two-way forward who will be given an opportunity to play wing on one of Buffalo’s top lines centred by Jack Eichel or Ryan O’Reilly.
Botterill valued Sheary’s playoff experience and ability to perform against other teams’ top defenders.
After scoring 23 goals and 53 points in 61 games in 2016-17, Sheary’s production dropped last year, when he finished with 18 goals and 30 points in 79 games.
Sheary has one year left on his contract before he is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent.
The Penguins are shaking up their lineup after failing to win a third consecutive title. The trade came a day after Pittsburgh signed forward Bryan Rust to a four-year contract extension. The Penguins on Wednesday evening used some of their newfound cap space to re-sign forward Riley Sheahan to a $2.1 million, one-year contract.
Hunwick is an 11-year veteran, who signed a two-year contract with the Penguins in free agency last summer. He finished with four goals and 10 points in 42 games last season. The Sabres become his fifth team in six years.
Drafted in the seventh round by Boston in 2004, Hunwick played three-plus seasons with the Bruins, and has also played with Colorado, Toronto and the New York Rangers. He has 25 goals and 117 points in 521 career games.
Hunwick joins Buffalo’s already crowded defensive ranks, which are expected to include 18-year-old Swedish blue-liner Rasmus Dahlin, who was selected with the No. 1 pick in the draft last week.
Buffalo’s returning defencemen include Rasmus Ristolainen, Zach Bogosian, Marco Scandella and Jake McCabe.
Dahlin drew a crowd of about 1,800 fans Wednesday, when the Sabres opened a four-day rookie development camp.
The Sabres are coming off a disappointing season in which they finished last for the third time in five years.
Botterill won’t say if he’s done attempting to improve his lineup through trades, including ongoing chatter involving O’Reilly.
Botterill has acknowledged receiving interest in O’Reilly, but dismissed a report he had a deal in place to trade the centre to Montreal during the draft.
“I understand why people are calling on him, but the validity of a lot of the rumours are simply untrue,” Botterill said. “I would just say from Day 1, we’ve been very happy with Ryan being part of our group.”