Pilut getting comfortable with the Sabres organization

September 18, 2018 - 11:06 am
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After a career-year in the Swedish Hockey League in the 2017-18 season, defenseman Lawrence Pilut is ready to make his debut in North America with the Buffalo Sabres.

The 22-year-old Swedish defenseman comes to Buffalo after signing a two-year entry-level contract with the Sabres back on May 15.

In 52 games last season with HV71, Pilut scored eight goals and led all SHL defensemen with 38 points, which landed him the Salming Trophy as the SHL Defenseman of the Year. In the playoffs, Pilut and HV71 were eliminated in the Wild-Card Round of the SHL playoffs.

After spending parts of the last five seasons playing professionally in the SHL, Pilut now feels ready to make that jump to North America, with the hopes of landing a spot with the Sabres in the National Hockey League.

"It's a great organization and I just feel it's a great opportunity here," Pilut said after practice on Sunday at HarborCenter. "It feels really fresh here, and every body wants to go, wants to win. I want to be a part of that and try to give it my all here. That's why I came."

Back in January, Sportnet's Elliotte Friedman had reported that a number of NHL teams were in Sweden to scout Pilut and try to sign him to a free agent contract. One of those teams were the Sabres, and assistant general manager Steve Greeley was a guy who got to watch him plenty of times before the team was able to get him under contract.

"Lawrence is a guy we were very excited to get," Greeley said back in June on WGR. "He played last year for HV71, he's been in that organization and in the top Swedish league since he was 18-years-old, which is impressive. He's a young kid, like a December 1995-born, which excited us because it's a kid who can come into our organization and hopefully grow with it and be part of the core."

"He's a puck-moving defenseman who led that league in scoring. He gets up in the play, he moves it, he always has deception... He's a top-five to seven minutes played for a defenseman in that league. To me, he's a guy who is a little undersized, but his hockey sense, his hockey IQ is what has made him such a good player in Sweden, and a guy we're really excited to have come over."

Pilut was in town to start the summer as he took part in Sabres development camp, where he gave the fans and the organization a brief look at what he has to offer. He later returned this summer to take part in the Sabres Prospects Challenge right before the start of camp this past Thursday. The young Swede says that the Sabres organization has taken care of him in his time of transition from Sweden to North America.

"The organization has been very good to me," Pilut said. "So professional, everything that we do here with all of the staff and everything. It's been really good with the time that I've been here so far, and I'm having a great time. It's been really good."

Although Pilut was born and raised in Sweden, his father, Larry, was born in Detroit, Michigan and played his college hockey in the United States before signing to play professionally in Sweden. Lawrence grew up playing hockey in Sweden, and learned the game while playing on the larger ice surface of the SHL.

Sometimes, players who make the transition from the larger ice surfaces in Europe to the smaller rink sizes have a difficult time transitioning to the speed and physical nature of hockey in North America. So far through the Prospects Challenge and training camp, Pilut has not looked to have too much difficulty with the transition.

"I'm starting to adjust more and more every time," Pilut said. "It feels like I'm feeling better and better. Of course I still have some adjustments that I need to [make], but I'm working on it every day and it feels like I'm getting into the flow more and more."

Pilut's game is all about his ability to move the puck and the way he see the ice at a high level on offense. He is able to make crisp tape-to-tape passes on the transition from defense to offense, and has the vision to make the best outlet pass to get the offense on the attack.

When his puck is on his stick in the offensive zone, Pilut always seems to find a way to get the puck to the net and create scoring opportunities for his teammates. Whether that is just simply throwing the puck on goal or whether he lets go of a solid shot on goal, Pilut has the vision and offensive awareness to get the puck to the net when the opportunity presents itself. This is one aspect of his game that Pilut has taken pride in over the years.

"It's always been part of my game to try and get pucks through to the net," Pilut said. "Last year, I worked on it a lot, and it's just been better and better it feels like. My main focus is just to get the puck in to the net so the forward s can work on it and try to [score]."

In the defensive zone, Pilut was a solid, reliable player who can shut things down when the times get rough. He skates well, which allows him to keep up with the play in both ends, and is able to show off his physicality at times, despite only standing at 5' 11" and 181-pounds.

Pilut says that he tries to be a complete defenseman like two former Swedish defensemen who have had a ton of success in the NHL, one of which has been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

"I watched a lot of [Nicklas] Lidstrom when I was growing up, and I've been watching a lot of Oliver Ekman-Larsson too. We grew up in the same town, and I've been getting some tips and stuff from him," Pilut said.

"I just try to do my best out there and try to give it my all and have fun doing it. That's part of my game is to try and work angles on guys and try to get away sticks and be smart out there."

Even head coach Phil Housley has noticed how much work Pilut has put into his transition to the NHL, and just the type of player he has shown to be in the first few weeks with the team.

"I think he's done a terrific job, and that goes back to the Prospects Challenge," Housley said. "I think [for] all of the guys that came in early [it has] paid dividends for them, and it just led into camp, it set the tone. He's been terrific. I really like his poise with the puck. He has a very strong threshold, even at the blue line in the offensive zone. He's been a pleasant surprise."

Pilut comes to Buffalo with a number of familiar faces also in the fold for the upcoming season. He played against a number of Sabres prospects in his time in the SHL, including the first overall pick in the 2018 NHL Draft, Rasmus Dahlin. After spending the last two years having to face Dahlin while he was with Frölunda, Pilut is happy that he now gets to call him his teammate.

"He's an amazing player. He's gonna be great," said Pilut. "Just watching him out there, he does some stuff [where] you have to blink twice. But it's real. He's gonna grow up to be a great player, and playing against his is always hard because you never know where he's gonna go. He's just an amazing player."

Another former opponent that he will now get to call a teammate with the Sabres organization is forward Victor Olofsson.

Last season in the SHL, Olofsson led the league with 27 goals scored in 50 games played alongside Dahlin in Frölunda. The 23-year-old was signed by the Sabres to his two-year entry-level contract on April 24 after being selected by the team in the seventh round (181st overall) in the 2014 NHL Draft.

Many have said that Olofsson may have one of the best shots not only in Sweden, but also in all of hockey. Pilut knows how lethal his shot can be, and how he may be able to fit in nicely to Buffalo's future.

"It's tough. He scored on me a couple of times too," Pilut said. "He's a tough guys to defend against. He's explosive, he's very powerful in his strides out there, and his shot is incredible. You have to really keep an eye on him because he can shoot from anywhere on the ice and you just have to be close."

As of now, the Sabres have a log-jam on the blue line with a number of players looking to crack the opening night roster in Buffalo on October 4 against the Boston Bruins. Pilut has certainly shown enough in his play this training camp to keep him in consideration for the 23-man roster, but if he finds himself on the outside looking in, he will have the chance to play some key minutes in Rochester with the Americans.

However, Pilut is not worrying too much about a roster spot with the Sabres at this point. He is just trying to take everything on a day-by-day approach.

"Right now I'm just thinking about what's next," Pilut said. "I'm just focusing on doing my best to giving it my all out there, and then we'll see what happens."

Pilut is set to make his preseason debut on Tuesday when the Sabres host the Penguins at KeyBank Center.

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