Lawrence Pilut spent two seasons in the Sabres organization. ©2020, Micheline Veluvolu

Why did Lawrence Pilut bolt from Sabres to Russian team?

Following two productive seasons in the Buffalo Sabres organization, it seemed like a formality defenseman Lawrence Pilut would re-sign this offseason as a restricted free agent.

Pilut, 24, quickly acclimated to a new brand of hockey following his arrival from Sweden in 2018, developing into one of the AHL’s most dynamic defensemen as a rookie with the Rochester Americans. Less than two months into his North American career, he earned his first recall to the Sabres.

Next season, Pilut figured to have the inside track for a regular spot in Buffalo. Then on Tuesday, Traktor Chelyabins, a Russian team in the Kontinental Hockey League, officially announced Pilut had signed a two-year contract.

What the heck happened?

As a pending RFA, Pilut possessed limited options, at least if he wanted to continue playing in North America.

It’s common for agents to threaten teams by saying their client could bolt to Russia or another European locale. It’s just a part of the negotiations.

Usually they’re bluffing. Most players grow up dreaming of skating in the NHL, not the KHL.

Patrik Aronsson, the European agent who represents Pilut, informed the Sabres his client could sign a deal overseas, a source told the Times Herald.

The Sabres did not think Pilut, who has played 46 NHL games, would leave. Meanwhile, the sides kept negotiating.

Then Pilut’s camp went silent for a couple of days, an ominous sign. When the agent was finally tracked down, he said Pilut had inked a contract in the KHL.

The Sabres were stunned, according to the source.

After carrying a surfeit of defensemen much of the season, the Sabres traded Marco Scandella and waived Zach Bogosian, creating a spot for Pilut.

“He had put in so much work here and he was so close,” said Sabres assistant general manager Randy Sexton, who’s also the Amerks’ GM. “He had played games both seasons, he understood our philosophy, he understood our approach and he was right there. He’s going in a different direction. That’s obviously his prerogative. I wish him well.”

Sexton said he doesn’t believe Pilut, who scored 10 goals and 49 points in 67 AHL appearances, was frustrated.

“I suspect the financial piece of that may have had something to do with it,” he said. “I don’t know.”

Terms of Pilut’s KHL deal haven’t been revealed. He received a prorated base salary of $832,500 in the NHL, according to capfriendly.com, and $70,000 in the AHL.

The Sabres have been told Chelyabins included an NHL out clause for Pilut, but Sexton said they haven’t seen the KHL contract. Sexton said the Sabres plan to retain Pilut’s rights by giving him a qualifying offer.

While Pilut, a two-time AHL All-Star, was perhaps the Sabres’ most talked about defense prospect, they have other youngsters in the pipeline.

Pilut’s departure has helped create what Sexton called a “tremendous chance” for two Sabres defense prospects: Will Borgen and Jacob Bryson.

“I would expect that Jacob and Will Borgen will be knocking on the door for a spot in Buffalo in training camp,” he said.

The former fourth-round picks spent all of the 2019-20 campaign in Rochester, turning heads for different reasons.

Sexton said the 6-foot-3, 198-pound Borgen has embraced his role as a defensive defenseman.

“We believe that Will’s identity was as a physically hard to play against, miserable guy that other teams really didn’t want to see on the ice, good penalty killing, good defensive play,” Sexton said.

By the end of the season, Sexton said Borgen, 23, “was skating the best that I had ever seen him.”

“His puck skills have improved, his puck movement has improved, his confidence has gone up, his shot has improved,” he said. “So all the skill categories that you need from a player. But most importantly, I think, his embracing of that identity is going to give him a great opportunity to make our team, because we want a little more smack, we want some grit, we want some physicality in our lineup.”

Borgen, the 92nd overall pick out of St. Cloud State in 2015, played four NHL games as a rookie in 2018-19. He compiled one goal and 11 points in 61 contests in his second season with the Amerks.

If the COVID-19 pandemic hadn’t forced the NHL to cancel the Sabres’ final 13 games, the 5-foot-9, 179-pound Bryson might’ve earned his first recall late in the season.

Bryson, 22, rapidly morphed into perhaps the Sabres’ top defense prospect as a rookie with the Amerks.

“When I saw him play in college, he was kind of a mobile, get-the-puck-moving, defense-first kind of guy,” Sexton said. “But what we’re really pleased about is … the offense that we’ve seen from him.”

Bryson, the 99th overall selection out of Providence in 2017, scored four goals and 27 points in 61 outings with the Amerks.

“To be candid, he’s shown more offense at an early stage of his career that he thought he might,” Sexton said. “We’re very pleased about that. So by the second half of the year, he was a real power-play option for us.”

7 thoughts on “Why did Lawrence Pilut bolt from Sabres to Russian team?”

  1. Another example of the incompetence of the Sabres front office and GM. No one wants to be part of a Loser and that’s their identity now unless they make changes in the best interest of the team, the city and most importantly the fans! It’s not about efficiency Mrs Pegula…put some heart and soul into it!

  2. I believe we have talent , but no grit. We need to have the opposition know they are not welcome in our end of the ice. Our GM needs to get a 2nd line center one way or the other. By the way don’t be on the short end of the stick ( O’Rielly) out of desperation.
    We need to have players want to come here as per the Bills. Direction from the top (GM) has to steer the team and acquire needed talent other than by DRAFTING IN THE TOP 10 every year.

  3. Changes HAVE TO BE MADE. I don’t think Mrs. Pegula is the right person for the president of the SABRES. She has no knowledge of hockey. If changes are not made the SABRES will keep on losing. Hire someone like Lindy Ruff as president of hockey operations to get this team on the right path to start winning.

  4. He left for one and only reason. He was not, and will probably never be, good enough to crack the top 6. The defence was not the Sabres problem this year

  5. First of all, the Sabres need gritty defensive defensemen that are more sound with the puck and not afraid to move oppositions bodies out from in front of the net. Too much “pansie hockey” which is why our goalies are having a hard time. I believe Ullmark is the goalie we need… and the right type of D corps will help.
    I saw Pilut here in Rochester and he has a lot of upside to him. I think it’s another foolish mistake to let him get away. I hope that Borgen can step it up and be “that guy”. He is still young.
    Dahlin has been great so far however I’d like to see him be tougher in his own zone. Again, he’s young and I hope he will get tougher as he gets older.
    At times this team can score goals and other times it’s tough to see the dry spells. Gotta find a second like center that can score 20+ goals. I like how Olafsson has developed but obviously more is needed.
    Lastly, just because your last name is Pegula doesn’t mean you are a “good fit” at the top of an NHL team. They need a President of Hockey Operations (don’t be cheap here) to over see Botterill and the Sabres, the Amerks, the Cyclones in ECHL and scouting. Kim can certainly write the checks however hire the right person with petigree to oversee everything the right way.

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