Lawrence Pilut had just stepped off the ice at Bill Gray's Iceplex, the practice rink for the Rochester Americans, when he was pulled aside by his coach, Chris Taylor.
Pilut, a 22-year-old rookie defenseman, wasn't sure what to expect. Then, Taylor said that Pilut had been recalled by the Buffalo Sabres and he would need to be at KeyBank Center in time for Wednesday night's game against the Philadelphia Flyers.
Pilut participated in warmups and headed to the press box, where he watched as a sold-out crowd cheered on a 5-2 victory, the Sabres' first seven-game win streak since 2006-07. Now, he's hoping for a chance to play in front of those fans, sooner rather than later.
"Here is where I want to be," Pilut said after an informal skate Thanksgiving morning at KeyBank Center. "Here is where I want to play. I’m just happy right now to be up here. Now I just want to get into the action."
It's unclear when he will get the opportunity. Pilut was recalled when Patrik Berglund was placed on injured reserve with an upper body injury, leaving the Sabres with 13 forwards and eight defensemen. Marco Scandella was scratched Wednesday night and remains day-to-day with a lower body injury suffered Monday in Pittsburgh, though he was one of 10 Sabres to participate in an informal skate Thanksgiving morning.
Nathan Beaulieu took Scandella's place in the lineup, skating alongside Casey Nelson on Phil Housley's third defensive pairing. Those two received the least amount of ice time among the Sabres' six active defensemen against the Flyers. If Scandella is unable to play, Housley could choose to see how Pilut fares against NHL competition either Friday afternoon at home against Montreal or Saturday in Detroit.
Pilut's skill set is an ideal fit for Housley's system, where defensemen need to join the offensive rush. Pilut was tied for the AHL lead with 22 points, including 19 assists, with a plus-16 rating in 15 games. He played in almost every situation, paired with Zach Redmond.
Pilut signed a two-year entry-level contract with the Sabres in May after spending nearly five seasons with HV71 of the Swedish Hockey League, and he was named the league's top defenseman last season. He impressed the Sabres in training camp but was sent to Rochester to adapt to the North American game.
"I felt good," Pilut said of his time in the Sabres' camp. "I had a good feeling coming into the season. It feels like I’ve been playing good down in Rochester. Everybody’s been so good to me down there. They’ve really been helping me a lot. … It’s been a good feeling so far."
Housley wasn't available to the media Thanksgiving morning, so it's unclear when or if he plans to put Pilut into the lineup. Nelson and Beaulieu didn't play poorly against the Flyers. Perhaps Pilut was recalled as insurance in the event of another injury.
While adapting to the AHL, Pilut kept a close eye on the Sabres' resurgence. Buffalo, now 14-6-2 and tied for second in the Atlantic Division with 30 points, owns the NHL's longest win streak of the season despite playing six games in nine nights.
"They’ve been rolling pretty good up here," Pilut said. "It’s a good feeling in the group, it feels like for these two days I’ve been here for so far. I want to try to be a part of it."
Defenseman Shea Weber, the Canadiens' captain, participated in the team's practice Thursday afternoon at KeyBank Center. Weber has yet to play this season as he recovers from ankle surgery, and he isn't expected to return until next month.
Canadiens coach Claude Julien told reporters that backup Antti Niemi will start in goal Friday against the Sabres. Niemi allowed four goals on 42 shots in a 4-2 loss to Buffalo last month.
Berglund was not present during the Sabres' skate. Beaulieu, Nelson, Rasmus Dahlin, Evan Rodrigues, Casey Mittelstadt, Jeff Skinner, Linus Ullmark and Remi Elie also participated.