If there was any hope of a reunion between the Buffalo Sabres and defenseman Lawrence Pilut, it just took a major hit. The 25-year-old defenseman has signed a one-year contract extension in the KHL that will keep him with Traktor Chelyabinsk through the 2022-23 season. The Sabres will lose their rights to Pilut during that season, as he turns 27 in December 2022 and will be an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2023.
Pilut once looked like he could be a long-term fixture on the Buffalo blue line and there were undoubtedly some that hoped he might find his way back. Pilut was an undrafted prospect out of Sweden who the Sabres scooped up in 2018 after several impressive season in the SHL. In fact, he was the SHL’s Defenseman of the Year in his final season in Sweden, leading all defenders with 38 points in 52 games – and did all of this at the age of 23. He transitioned immediately into an NHL role in 2018-19, playing in 33 NHL games versus 30 AHL games. He only recorded six points as a rookie, but notched 26 in the minors where he continued to look like a promising offense defenseman. Instead of taking a step forward in the second – and final – year of his entry-level contract, Pilut instead skated in only 13 games with the Sabres and was held scoreless.
While neither side was likely happy with Pilut’s 2019-20 campaign, the Sabres still made the RFA rearguard a qualifying offer and attempted to re-sign him (or at least keep him from an NHL competitor). Pilut opted to return to Europe rather than stay in Buffalo, inking a two-year deal with Traktor, but it did not seem like the relationship between the two sides was irreparably damaged. After Pilut enjoyed a strong debut season in the KHL last year, recording 28 points and setting a franchise record for blocked shots, it seemed the Sabres would be clamoring to bring him back.
Instead, Pilut seems to have other plans. Staying in Chelyabinsk for an extra year will take him to unrestricted free agency and he will have his pick of a new NHL home, assuming he continues to play at the same high level in Russia. A two-time AHL All-Star with high-end scoring ability and good defensive skills, who will have seasoned in arguably the second-best league in the world for a few years, Pilut will be an intriguing free agent option, especially at just 27. While there is no guarantee he ends up back in the NHL, it does seem unlikely that he winds up back in Buffalo if that is the case.