The Buffalo Sabres' depth on the blue line took another hit with Monday's announcement that Lawrence Pilut underwent successful shoulder surgery that will require five to six months for recovery.
Pilut, 23, appeared in 33 games during two stints with the Sabres this season, recording one goal with five assists and a minus-8 rating. It is unclear if surgery is the result of a chronic issue or if it is the fallout from the hit he took during the Rochester Americans' season-ending loss in Toronto last month.
Following a second-period hit near his own blue line, Pilut left the Coca-Cola Coliseum ice grabbing his left shoulder but returned to play the third period. His estimated recovery time means Pilut could miss training camp and the start of the season, a significant loss after fellow defenseman Zach Bogosian underwent hip surgery earlier this offseason.
Pilut, who was signed to an entry-level contract last May, had four goals with 22 assists and a plus-22 rating in 30 regular-season games with Rochester. He failed to record a point during the team's three-game playoff sweep by the Toronto Marlies.
Though neither the Sabres nor the Amerks are currently playing, the injury could have a long-term impact on General Manager Jason Botterill's plans for the NHL roster.
Pilut, a left-shot defenseman, would have competed for a roster spot during training camp. Now, he likely will require a stint in Rochester once he is finally cleared for game action.
Rasmus Dahlin, Marco Scandella and Matt Hunwick are the only left-shot defensemen under contract with the Sabres through next season. Jake McCabe is a restricted free agent this summer, though he is expected to be retained for 2019-20.
Botterill could opt to have those four compete for the three spots on the left side or Pilut's injury could open the door for a young player such as Jacob Bryson, a former fourth-round draft pick who joined the Amerks on an amateur tryout on the eve of their Calder Cup playoff series against Toronto.
The Sabres also could address the problem through trades or free agency. After all, Bogosian's initial five-to-six month timetable could leave the team with only three right-shot defensemen: Rasmus Ristolainen, Brandon Montour and Casey Nelson. Additionally, Montour was injured on Monday during Canada's game against Slovakia in the World Championships and left the ice during the third period. The extent of the injury is not yet known.
Though Hunwick has proven capable of moving to the right side, the Sabres would be more likely to give Will Borgen an NHL opportunity if they are in need of an additional right-handed option. Borgen, a fourth-round draft pick in 2015, had 14 points and a plus-8 rating in 71 games with the Amerks this season. He was minus-5 in four games with the Sabres.
The injuries to Pilut and Bogosian unlikely would impact a possible Ristolainen trade since both players should only miss one month of the season. Ristolainen, 24, is under contract for three more years, but could be the Sabres' most valuable trade chip given his skill set.
Pilut, a restricted free agent next summer, made a seamless transition to the North American ice surface during his first season out of the Swedish Hockey League. The Sabres had a 5-on-5 shot attempt differential of 53.22 percent with Pilut on the ice, the highest mark among all players who appeared in at least 30 games for the team. He was particularly successful with Ristolainen, as the team had a 5-on-5 shot attempt differential of 55.48 percent when the two were together on the ice.
However, Pilut, like his teammates, struggled with defensive awareness and puck management, which led to his demotion to Rochester in February.