Sabres Lose Blueliner as Lawrence Pilut Signs in the KHL

Another young, developing prospect is leaving the Buffalo Sabres organization.

Lawrence Pilut has officially signed a two-year contract with Traktor Chelyabinsk of the Kontinental Hockey League.

For all intents and purposes, the Sabres have lost a young talent on the blue line — for now. The Sabres will retain his rights as long as they extend him a qualifying offer this offseason.

Lawrence Pilut Buffalo Sabres
Lawrence Pilut, Buffalo Sabres (Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Swedish defenseman who was set to become a restricted free agent this offseason has played in 46 NHL games in addition to 67 in the American Hockey League. Developing on a two-way contract, Pilut had been splitting his time between the Sabres and the Rochester Americans of the AHL. Through his first two seasons, Pilut was a two-time AHL All-Star, who put up 10 goals and 39 assists for 49 points with Rochester. In 46 NHL games with the Sabres, he has six points (one goal and five assists).

Before signing with Buffalo two years ago, Pilut was a highly-touted free agent. He had just finished a season in the Swedish Hockey League where he was named the Defenseman of the Year.

Related: The Evolution of Europeans in the NHL

Pilut became a fan favorite prospect for his puck-moving abilities, but also his lack of mistakes. He started to show glimpses of his offensive abilities, and there was no doubt that the Sabres had planned to bring back the 24-year-old. The question that remains: did they move him along too slow?

It’s being reported by Lance Lysowski that Pilut had an offer to stay in the NHL (with the Sabres), before Traktor convinced him otherwise.

It will be interesting to see how they structured his contract, because a lot of KHL contracts for younger players have out-clauses, which allow them to leave to return to the NHL. Like I mentioned earlier, the Sabres will retain his rights (as long as they send a qualifying offer), so he could choose to come back to Buffalo if his contract does include an out-clause.

Another One Bites the Dust

Pilut was one of the building blocks in Buffalo, and he will be missed. It’s not what he brought to the team in the past, it was the potential of what he was going to develop. Already at 24, he was one of the smoothest skaters on Buffalo’s blue line, and he just needed an opportunity to prove that on a consistent basis in the NHL.

After seeing Victor Antipin (another European defenseman) leave the team to return to the KHL after just one year, Pilut saw that the Sabres weren’t moving him along fast enough in his development. One of the aspects that Sabres GM Jason Botterill has been criticized for in his tenure in Buffalo has been mismanagement of prospects. Between Pilut and Antipin, you can argue that they didn’t get moved along quickly enough. But, between the young Casey Mittlestadt and Tage Thompson, they might have been thrown in the water too soon. Let’s really hope that they assess the situation with incoming top prospect Dylan Cozens correctly. All in all, now that I think about it — let’s all be glad they got it right with Victor Olofsson…

Related: Bandy – The Other Ice Hockey

At the end of the day, who really knows what sparked this move? It was rumored that Pilut was unhappy with his situation earlier in the season, and then the KHL signing broke a few weeks ago. This decision could have fully been stemming from the fact that the Sabres are about to have their longest offseason ever. They last played on March 9 and won’t play again until the 2020-21 regular season, which is going to be delayed no matter what — it’s just a matter of how long.