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Pilut joins Sabres in New Jersey, adding insurance on back end

Rookie defenseman has played 25 games for Buffalo this season

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber /

NEWARK, N.J. -  With Matt Hunwick nursing an upper-body injury and Zach Bogosian taking a maintenance day off from practice, the Sabres recalled defenseman Lawrence Pilut from Rochester on Sunday afternoon. 

Phil Housley said he expects Bogosian to be ready to play against the New Jersey Devils on Monday, but the addition of Pilut gives the Sabres insurance on the back end with another game awaiting them in Ottawa on Tuesday. 

Even if Bogosian does play, Pilut's presence give the Sabres the option to restore left-right balance on defense. The Sabres have been playing with four right shots, using Bogosian on his off side on a pair with Rasmus Ristolainen. 

"We're sort of depleted with Matt Hunwick's situation," Housley said. "We felt we needed some insurance. Those decisions will be made at game time tomorrow."

Video: AFTER PRACTICE: Housley

Pilut tallied six points (1+5) during a 25-game stint with the Sabres that began in late November and ended with his reassignment to Rochester on Feb. 22. The 23-year-old defenseman ranked third among AHL skaters with 22 points (3+29) at the time of his recall on Nov. 27. 

He made a similar impact upon making his NHL debut, skating 19-plus minutes in three of his first four contests with Buffalo. As time went on, however, Housley saw the young defenseman's game slip. 

"I think his overall game was really good when he got here," the coach said. "He played some really good minutes for us in a lot of different situations. Sometimes, in a young man's development, you take a step back and you're not up to speed. I didn't think he was moving his feet as well. His defensive reads weren't as sharp as they needed to be, so we brought him back down to Rochester to find his game."

Pilut admitted his play in Rochester since his reassignment had been less consistent than his early-season surge. He registered four points (1+3) in 12 games, but did tally four shots in the Amerks' win over Toronto on Saturday. 

"I think I had great consistency at the beginning of the season," he said. "When I came back now, I thought I struggled a little bit but I'm finding my way back slowly. I thought yesterday was a good game for me. … I felt a little push from that game."


At his best, Pilut is a dynamic puck-moving defenseman who can jump into the play and get shots through from the point on offense and plays with a competitive edge in his own zone. 

"He's an excellent first pass, best pass option and he can see the whole ice coming out of his own end," Housley said. "He's got to get back to moving his feet. Things will happen when he starts to move his feet and skate to the next option, but it's good to have him back."


Sunday's practice

Casey Mittelstadt filled in on a defense pair alongside Ristolainen, a sign that he could be scratched against the Devils on Monday. Housley said that decision would be made prior to the game, but added that the new perspective could be beneficial for the rookie. 

"I think Casey's given us some really good games," Housley said. "Sometimes, in a player's development, it's not a bad thing to take a step back. You look at our games, we're giving up way too much right now. And it's not what you make, it's what you leave on the table and we're leaving way too much. 

"In Casey's defense, it might be a good thing just to take a deep breath. He's played a lot of hockey to this point. We'll make that decision tomorrow."

Here's how the Sabres lined up, with Scott Wilson also working in on defense:

43 Conor Sheary - 9 Jack Eichel - 92 Alexander Nylander
53 Jeff Skinner - 71 Evan Rodrigues - 23 Sam Reinhart
72 Tage Thompson - 17 Vladimir Sobotka - 29 Jason Pominville
28 Zemgus Girgensons - 22 Johan Larsson - 21 Kyle Okposo

20 Scott Wilson / 37 Casey Mittelstadt* - 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
26 Rasmus Dahlin - 62 Brandon Montour
6 Marco Scandella - 8 Casey Nelson

40 Carter Hutton
35 Linus Ullmark

*Extra forwards skating on defense

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