Conor Sheary was a later free-agent addition for the Washington Capitals in December 2020. Fast forward to this season, and he’s determined to be an X-Factor for the team after a strong debut in D.C.
Just before the start of the 2020-21 campaign, Conor Sheary was at a crossroads. The two-time Stanley Cup champion was still a free agent and looking for his next opportunity amid a global pandemic. Sheary admitted it was a stressful time for the near four months he went without a deal until Washington finally came knocking.
“I was waiting almost three or four months once free agency opened to sign a contract,” Sheary said. “At that point, I was just looking for a job and Washington came to me and offered me a spot.”
He inked a one-year, $735K contract that paid off big time for both parties. Sheary’s work ethic, as well as confidence and adjustments to Peter Laviolette’s systems, helped grow his game at both ends of the ice.
Through 53 games, Sheary dished 14 goals and 22 points, which would have put him on pace for 21 goals and 33 points in a full 82-game season. He finished fourth on the team in goals in 2020-21. His energy, speed, skating and stickhandling ability helped him generate scoring chances, protect the puck and move the play well up the ice. This led to not only one of the best campaigns of his career but earned him a two-year extension that Sheary called a “no-brainer.”
“What you really got to like about [the deal] was it wasn’t handed to him,” Laviolette said of Sheary. “He came into camp and he had to fight for his opportunity. And when he got his opportunity, he had to continue to push, continue to fight and make a case.”
His 1.16 goals-per-game ranked fourth among Capitals forwards and was the highest of his career since 2016-17 when he put up 53 points with the Penguins. Sheary also ranked fifth in shots among all Capitals skaters (88) and sixth in shooting percentage (15.91%, also a career-best).
The 29-year-old also played well at the other end of the ice. He took great care of the puck and played an efficient two-way game that helped him maintain possession and move the puck up ice. Sheary boasted 2.06 takeaways per game, the highest of his career, and also had just eight giveaways, the least among all Capitals with at least 21GP.
So, how will he carry that over into 2021-22?
It all starts with speed, vision and confidence. The 5-8, 178-pound winger is a talented skater and strong puck carrier who can handle the puck well and get to high-danger areas. If he can continue to play with speed and utilize his hockey IQ, he’ll keep producing.
This will be vital for a Washington team that will rely on secondary scoring, especially after losing Jakub Vrana on the left side. Sheary has proven that he can be a 20-goal scorer and a high-danger player. His play has also earned him time on the power play and on the top-6 when the occasion calls. He has a lot of chemistry alongside Lars Eller but has also shown that he can skate just about anyone.
“I came into a winning team and a winning culture, and I think I fit into kind of that mold,” Sheary explained. “I’m a complementary player who can play up and down the lineup. With the skill and talent on this team, I was able to fit in seamlessly and have success.”