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Sabres Notebook: Defenseman Lawrence Pilut a healthy scratch again

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Lawrence Pilut's youthful mistakes earned him a seat in the Nationwide Arena press box.

Pilut, the Buffalo Sabres' 23-year-old defenseman, was a healthy scratch Tuesday night against the Columbus Blue Jackets after he struggled in a 4-3 loss to the Vancouver Canucks prior to the All-Star break. Matt Hunwick, who has been scratched for 13 consecutive games, will replace Pilut in the lineup.

Pilut has one goal among five points in 16 games since being recalled from Rochester, and advanced analytics paint him as the Sabres' most consistent threat on the blue line during that span. However, coach Phil Housley is hoping another break will help Pilut improve his decision-making.

"Lawrence’s game has been pretty solid for us," Housley said following the morning skate. "He’s had some games where he’s made mistakes. That’s going to be part of his development, learning from those things. He’s going to get another opportunity. Tonight we’re going to go with the six guys who give us a chance to win. I think Lawrence has done a terrific job just getting accustomed to the North American game. He still has a good swagger about his game. I think it’s just in those times of [needing to keep] it simple and making better decisions."

Pilut's no-look backhanded pass in the defensive zone resulted in Brock Boeser's second-period goal in Rogers Arena on Jan. 18, giving the Canucks a 3-2 lead. He was scratched after a similar turnover during a 5-3 loss to Tampa Bay in KeyBank Center on Jan. 12, but only sat for the Sabres' 7-2 loss in Edmonton two days later.

Housley has remained patient with Rasmus Dahlin, Casey Mittelstadt and Tage Thompson but has used a different strategy with Pilut since the Sabres have more options on defense. Rather than giving Nathan Beaulieu playing time, Housley opted for Hunwick, who has appeared in only two games this season.

Hunwick, 33, was acquired along with Conor Sheary from Pittsburgh in June but was unable to skate with the Sabres until December because of a neck injury suffered during an off-ice offseason workout. Hunwick made his Sabres debut in Boston on Dec. 16, and played the following game against Florida.

With eight healthy defensemen on the roster, Hunwick has not played since. He is under contract through next season and has played 523 NHL games over 12 seasons. Housley said that experience could be important with this being the Sabres' first game in 11 days.

Pilut was named the Swedish Hockey League's top defenseman last season after scoring eight goals among 38 points in 52 games. He started this season in Rochester, where he was tied for the AHL lead with 22 points through 16 games. That was enough to earn him a spot in the AHL All-Star Classic, though the Sabres excluded Pilut from this past weekend's festivities since he was needed on the NHL roster.

"It is a learning experience," Housley said. "We’ve been patient all along, not only with Lawrence but our young players. We know they’re going to make mistakes. I thought our young guys were playing very good hockey before the break. Hopefully that transfers into tonight. We have eight very good defensemen that can play. ... [Hunwick] has bought his time and earned his due to get back into the lineup."

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Rochester defenseman Brendan Guhle did not record a point in the North Division's four round-robin, 3-on-3 games during the AHL All-Star Classic in Springfield, Mass. The North won the event by beating the Central Division, 1-0, in a shootout Monday night.

The Amerks' All-Star break runs through Thursday, and they play in Binghamton at 7:05 p.m. Friday.

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Defenseman Oskari Laaksonen, a Sabres prospect who won a gold medal at the World Junior Championships, has been added to Team Finland's roster for the upcoming Euro Hockey Tour, an annual tournament open to the national teams for Finland, Sweden, Russia and Czech Republic.

Laaksonen, a third-round draft pick in 2017, had one goal in seven games during the World Junior Championships and three goals among 18 points for Ilves of Liiga, Finland's top professional league.

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