ROCHESTER – In Zach Redmond’s mind, Sabres defense prospect Lawrence Pilut possesses the talent to play in the NHL right now.
Of course, after sending Pilut back to the Rochester Americans and trading Nathan Beaulieu late last month, the Sabres still have eight healthy defensemen. They’ve been scratching two every game.
“It’s a question of when there’s room for him,” said Redmond, Pilut’s defense partner much of this season. “Buffalo’s got a good back end. That’s just how it goes sometimes. If he’s somewhere else on a different team, he’s probably there full time.”
So following a 25-game run with the Sabres, Pilut, a free agent signing, is back in the minors patiently awaiting another opportunity. The Swede looked impressive at times during his first NHL action, showcasing the scoring prowess that makes him one of the American Hockey League’s premier offensive threats.
Pilut, who scored one goal and six points in the NHL, has tried to embrace his demotion. The prospect returned fully invested in the Amerks, according to Redmond and Rochester coach Chris Taylor.
“My mind was focused right away when I got back, just keep working on my game, keep trying to develop and keep working on the small things,” Pilut said prior to registering an assist in a 5-0 win over Bridgeport Sound on Friday in Blue Cross Arena.
“I’m playing a lot and getting a lot of minutes. I just love being around these guys. It’s been a good feeling since I’ve been back.”
After spending five years in the Swedish Hockey League, Pilut, 23, compiled three goals and 22 points in his first 16 AHL outings. His strong play essentially forced the Sabres to recall him in late November.
But transitioning back to a league he often dominated has taken some time. While it’s a small sample size, Pilut has one goal and three points in seven contests since returning. He scored Sunday in a 6-1 win over Binghamton.
“He’s just trying to create some confidence for himself and get adjusted, because it’s not easy,” said Taylor, who shuttled between leagues much of his playing career. “I’ve been there before getting sent down from the NHL. The timing’s off a little bit here and there, (there are) different players and different structures.”
Pilut said: “I’ve got a little ways to go.”
Naturally, Taylor said opponents have started paying closer attention to Pilut, who has terrific vision from the point and a knack for getting the puck to his teammates.
“Maybe he’s got to start shooting the puck a little bit more,” Taylor said.
Last weekend, Taylor broke up Pilut and Redmond, arguably the AHL’s most lethal defense tandem. Pilut, a left-handed shot, skated with Will Borgen, a righty. On Friday, Redmond moved beside Matt Tennyson, another right-hander. On Sunday, Redmond played with Brandon Hickey.
“We wanted to add a different dimension to our group,” Taylor said. “We wanted to give a steadiness to Lawrence, too. I think (Borgen) stays back a little bit more and that gives a little bit more freedom for Lawrence to get up in the play.”
Still, it wouldn’t be surprising if Taylor put Pilut and Redmond together again.
Redmond, 30, has enjoyed one of the greatest seasons by an AHL defenseman, scoring 21 goals in his first 50 outings. The veteran is a league MVP candidate.
“They both feed off each other, both offensively and defensively, because they have to play against some top lines,” Taylor said. “I think that only makes (Pilut) better for the NHL, make sure he’s playing against the top lines as well, challenge himself. We just don’t want to put him in cushy positions.”
Even if they aren’t playing together, Redmond’s professionalism makes him an excellent mentor for Pilut.
“His demeanor is perfect for Lawrence,” Taylor said. “He doesn’t get too excited, the highs and the lows. He’s demanding on himself but he doesn’t show it to others. His body language is very good. He’s a positive role model for Lawrence to show. Zach’s been there.”