Lawrence Pilut has fed off his spirited introduction to the NHL.
Three nights after the Buffalo Sabres’ defenseman made his debut against the Florida Panthers in Sunrise, Fla., Pilut played his second game at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville. He went from one of the more low-key arenas to the more raucous “Smashville.”
Pilut played his third game Tuesday against the Toronto Maple Leafs at KeyBank Center in front of a capacity crowd that was split among boisterous Sabres fans and even more boisterous Maple Leafs fans.
Pilut thrives on the liveliness.
“Playing in front of big crowds, that’s the thrill of it,” Pilut said Thursday at KeyBank Center. “It gets you going even more, and I really like to play in front of a lot of people. It’s been a big push for me.”
Pilut’s addition to the Sabres’ defense is as much about timing as it is about the energy.
Recalled Nov. 27 to the Sabres after 16 games with Rochester of the AHL, he joins a Sabres defense that has been decimated by injuries. Defensemen Casey Nelson and Jake McCabe are week-to-week and Marco Scandella is day-to-day, all with upper-body injuries. Matt Hunwick also has skated with the Sabres, but is day to day while recovering from a neck injury he sustained while training in the offseason.
Pilut brings some experience, too.
At 22, he is a little older than the typical NHL rookie. He signed a two-year, entry level contract with the Sabres in May after playing more than four seasons with HV71 of the Swedish Hockey League. He was the league’s top defenseman in 2017-18.
But he wasn’t a lock to make the Sabres roster. Sent to the AHL in the final week of training camp in September, Pilut has scored three goals and 19 assists for Rochester.
All that time, he kept his eye on rejoining the Sabres.
“I really wanted to play in the NHL,” Pilut said. “I was just patient and I’m still patient, to keep developing and to keep trying to be my best out there.”
When Pilut joined the Sabres, coach Phil Housley saw the defenseman’s competitive nature.
“He fights for loose pucks, he wins his battles, he attacks the game the right way,” Housley said. “I just like the enthusiasm. He can get a little overanxious at times, but his intentions are in the right area.”
The 5-foot-10, 180-pound Pilut has primarily paired with Rasmus Ristolainen in his first three NHL games, but skated Thursday morning at HarborCenter with Rasmus Dahlin, the Sabres’ “other” Swedish defenseman.
“He was the best ‘D’ in the Swedish League last year, and I’m not surprised he just came in here and played his game,” Dahlin said. “It’s just getting better for him, every game.”
While he has yet to score his first NHL point, the eye-popping stat for Pilut is his time on the ice.
Pilut played 19 minutes, nine seconds against the Predators and 22:49 in an overtime loss to the Maple Leafs.
Expect that number to remain steady for now.
“He’s going to get a lot of ice time and it’s good for him, because he’s used to it,” Dahlin said. “He can play his own game and have confidence out there.”
Pilut has set a goal to refine his offensive game and to be quicker on the ice in the NHL. He’ll get the chance to do it at KeyBank Center when the Sabres host Philadelphia on Saturday, Los Angeles on Tuesday and Phoenix next Thursday.
“I want to keep improving my game and keep improving the offensive qualities that I have,” Pilut said. “Keep getting more comfortable out there, and that will come as more and more games come.
“So far, I’ve been pretty okay in defending, and I feel my gaps have been better, and I just have to keep doing that, with the extra stuff to work on.”