📝 by Suzie Cool | AHL On The Beat
When the COVID-19 pandemic halted the world as we knew it over two and a half years ago, it changed the trajectory for a lot of people. Especially in the world of professional sports.
It was March 11, 2020, and the Rochester Americans had just fallen to the Binghamton Devils, 5-2, at the Blue Cross Arena. But it was after the game when the chaos truly ensued.
In the days that followed, leagues would cancel the remainder of their seasons one by one, forcing players to return home to nothing but uncertainty and questions.
One of those players was Rochester Americans defenseman Lawrence Pilut, who quickly went from being a top defensive prospect for the Buffalo Sabres to an unrestricted free agent in just a few shorts months’ time. Now he would be tasked with a making a difficult decision as to where he was taking his career.
With uncertainty surrounding the AHL and NHL in the summer of 2020, Pilut signed a two-year deal to play in the Kontinental Hockey League, a move that at the time Pilut felt was necessary and beneficial for his career.
Pilut spent two seasons with Traktor Chelyabinsk, scoring 39 points on seven goals and 32 assists in 97 contests while also producing 10 points (1g, 9a) in 20 postseason contests.
Now back in North America, the 26-year-old Pilut finds himself in more of a leadership role, something he might have been a little young for in his first two seasons in Rochester.
“Being one of the leaders in the room and on the ice, it [is] a big thing for me,” Pilut said, “Just being a voice all over, you know? Being a voice in the locker room and being one of the guys you can depend on.”
Pilut had originally signed a two-year, entry-level NHL deal as an undrafted free agent with the Sabres in 2018, and split those two seasons between the Amerks and Sabres rosters. During the 2018-19 campaign, Pilut’s first in North America, he appeared in 33 games with the Sabres, registering six points. With the Amerks, Pilut totaled 26 points on four goals and 22 assists in 30 contests. In 37 AHL games in 2019-20, Pilut tallied six goals and 17 assists and also appeared in 13 games with the Sabres. To boot, he was named to the AHL All-Star Classic both years (although he missed both events while on NHL recall).
“I think a lot has changed, honestly,” explained Pilut when asked what the biggest difference was when returning to the Sabres this fall. “The coaching staff, management, everything has been awesome so far. I think just the way they’ve handled everything and how they keep pushing everybody to be their best every day… There’s just like this positivity all around here, the vibes coming in, and I think it’s changed a lot since I was here last time.”
While Pilut made a great impression during his first stint in North America, he says he’s even more comfortable now that he knows what to expect in his second go-around here.
“I’m a little older coming back here now and I know what it’s all about,” he said. “You kind of know a little bit more the second time around, and you’ve learned a lot from the last time.”
Already in the 2022-23 campaign, Pilut has established himself as a top blueliner in Rochester. He has also earned his first recall of the season to Buffalo, making his season debut with the Sabres on Tuesday night in Seattle.
Now that he knows what’s expected from his game, this stint with the organization is going to be much different. Pilut is hoping his consistency and attention to detail will pay off. In return, the blueliner is looking for a full-time roster spot with the Sabres, while continuing to be a voice for the younger players that are ready to take that next step alongside him.
“We got a lot of young guys down here,” he said. “I try to help them out as much as possible to take the next step for them too. For me, personally, just the consistency in what I’m doing is something to keep working on.”