Buffalo, N.Y. (WGR 550) – Lawrence Pilut is back in Buffalo skating after signing a new contract with the Sabres this offseason.
Pilut says he really missed Western New York and is very happy to be back with the organization.
After spending two years splitting time between the Sabres and the Rochester Americans, Pilut actually seemed to regress in the 2019-20 season. He wasn’t happy with how things were playing out, so he signed a contract to play in the KHL with Traktor Chelyabinsk.
“It really didn’t work out here, and I felt like, for me, it was the best thing to do for my development," said Pilut following Wednesday's skate. "I think it was two very good years for me in the KHL, but now, it’s best for me to come back here and I’m really excited.”
It’s only been two years since the 26-year-old left, but so much has changed in that time. Kevyn Adams is the general manager, Don Granato is the head coach and most of the core players have been traded. Pilut says he’s not all that surprised at the amount of turnover.
“A lot can happen in two years, and it’s a lot of positive things that have happened," the Swedish defenseman said.
“Just coming in here two years later with all the new guys, I feel like it’s totally different. It’s so good, and you feel great when you come to the rink with all the guys. It’s such a positive vibe all the way around.”
Pilut only played 13 games with the Sabres during the 2019-20 season. Looking back at that season, only Victor Olofsson, Rasmus Dahlin, Jeff Skinner, Zemgus Girgensons, Kyle Okposo, Casey Mittelstadt, Henri Jokiharju and Ramus Asplund remain from that group.
Meanwhile, Pilut played with Jacob Bryson, Tage Thompson and Casey Fitzgerald in Rochester.
While watching Pilut last time in Buffalo, you could always tell that there was some offense to his game. However, he seemed timid to let it come through. In 46 NHL games, he had one goal and five assists for six points.
In 67 games in the American Hockey League, Pilut scored 10 goals and 39 assists for 49 points.
His first KHL season was similar to his Rochester numbers, as he had seven goals and 21 assists for 28 points in 57 games. Last year in 40 games, he had no goals and 11 assists.
Pilut believes that playing under Granato, he’ll be able to develop more of his game, because he’s grown in the last two years.
“I found a different type of stability in my game, and I’ve grown outside of hockey a lot as a person,” he said.
Pilut admitted he wouldn’t want to be in Russia right now with everything that’s happening over there. However, he says he was really ready to come back here anyway.
When European players come to North America, it takes them a while to adapt both on and off the ice. Pilut was certainly no different.
“When I came over, everything was kind of new and I was young still. It was the NHL, which I had dreamed of, so the nerves were there because you don’t really know how you’re going to fit in," Pilut said. "But with these two years away from it, you really understand your type of hockey. That was a great thing for me, and now I’m a lot more relaxed."
Olofsson and Asplund have both said that they needed Rochester to learn the North American game and the smaller ice surface. Pilut agreed with Olofsson that the time spent in Rochester is a good time to get adjusted.
“It’s a big transition," Pilut admitted. "There are a lot of smart players out there all the time, and a lot of talent all-around. The game’s a lot quicker over here, so you need to get over here and learn that."
Pilut will have to fight Bryson and Fitzgerald for a spot on this team in Buffalo. With youngsters like Dahlin, Jokiharju, Owen Power and Mattias Samuelsson on the defense, Pilut is now the old man of the group, which he realizes.
“It’s crazy. I didn’t think I’m going to feel old, but now I actually feel old,” Pilut said.
Pilut is just a year younger than the oldest player on the blue line, free agent signee Ilya Lyubushkin.
The Sabres report to training camp on Sept. 21, but in the meantime, the Sabres Prospects Challenge starts Thursday at Harborcenter against the Montreal Canadiens.
Join me, Brian Koziol and Brayton Wilson for all the action on WGR Sports Radio 550 starting at 7 p.m. ET.