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Sheary: ‘Being overlooked a few times just makes it easier for me to have that chip on my shoulder’

2016 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game One

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 30: Conor Sheary #43 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates after scoring a first period goal against the San Jose Sharks in Game One of the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Consol Energy Center on May 30, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Matt Kincaid/Getty Images)

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What a year it’s been for Penguins forward Conor Sheary.

He went from being an undersized forward with little NHL upside to playing on a line with Sidney Crosby.

After spending four years at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, no one was interested in Sheary’s services. He went undrafted and there wasn’t a lineup of teams waiting to sign him. Thankfully for Sheary, there was one team that wanted him.

“Not too many teams were interested,” said Sheary, per the Toronto Sun. “I think being overlooked a few times just makes it easier for me to have that chip on my shoulder. I just try to continue to play my game and continue to improve.”

The 23-year-old was putting together a fine season (seven goals, 36 points in 30 games) in the AHL under coach Mike Sullivan in 2015-16. But things changed in December. The Penguins fired coach Mike Johnston and hired Sullivan to be his replacement. After he was promoted to the big club, Sullivan recalled Sheary (and other young players) from the minors.

“I did have some input into it,” said Sullivan. “I think the fact that I had the opportunity to coach these guys in Wilkes-Barre, see what they were able to accomplish in the 20-something games that I was down there with them, certainly gave me a clearer indication of how I could utilize them and put them in positions to be successful. So when they did get the opportunity to play in the NHL, I could cast them in the right roles with the right line combinations.”

And what was the role Mike Sullivan envisioned for Sheary? Well, playing with Crosby of course.

“I think when you look at Conor’s game, he’s quick and he’s elusive in tight spaces,” said Sullivan. “These are all areas of Sid’s games that I think are his strengths … He can play that give-and-go game in tight space underneath the hashmarks. He sees the rush pretty well.”

The influx of young talent (Tom Khunhackl, Bryan Rust and Sheary) have helped spark the Penguins to a spot in the Stanley Cup Final. Now, they just have to find a way to win three more games.