This offseason, the Buffalo Sabres agreed to terms with defenseman Lawrence Pilut. The 22-year-old was an alternate captain for HV71 of the Swedish Hockey League and was named the SHL’s best defenseman. He had eight goals and 30 assists last season.
I recently interviewed Carl Ljungquist, sports journalist for the newspaper Jönköpings-Posten, who covers HV71 for his insight on Pilut.
Q: It’s been mentioned the Sabres were coveting Pilut for awhile. Do you have any information on that?
A: I know that there was NHL interest surrounding Lawrence Pilut at an early stage of the last season, but I don’t exactly know how long the Sabres showed interest.
Q: What did Pilut mean to the HV71 team? What type of leader is he on the ice and in the locker room?
A: Pilut meant a lot to the team. He came to the HV71 youth program before the 2011-2012 season, and played on the Junior-18 and Junior-20 teams before he had his SHL debut at age 17 (2013-2014). At first he was a young, talented player but in the last two seasons he was been an important player for the team, especially last season.
You could tell before the season that it was going to be Piluts’ year. He was very confident and Pilut is a winner; he won two J20 championships (2013 and 2014) and was the J20 captain in 2013-2014. Last year he captured the SHL title with HV71.
He was a leader on the SHL team as well, mostly because you can tell that he loves the game. He is a very polite and highly motivated player, and easy to talk to as a journalist. He was the stand in captain in a couple of SHL games last season.
Q: How was he relied on for HV71?
A: This past season he was the best player on the HV71 team. He had the highest average ice time per game (21:46) in the regular season and was relied on in every situation.
Q: Who would you say he models his game after? What are his strengths and weaknesses?
A: I think that he is a typical ”modern day defenseman”. There are a lot of them in Sweden. He’s not that big, but is very quick and agile. He can set up plays quickly and is not afraid to get involved in the offensive end.
I guess he needs some work on his physical play before going to North America, but with that being said, he is not a weak player by any means.
Q: At the development camp, fans quickly noticed his skating. Can you elaborate on that part of his game?
A: Lawrence Pilut is a really good skater. Thanks to that he can come out of tricky situations in his own end and set up quick plays.
Q: How do you think he will transition to the smaller North American ice and what role do you think he will fill for the Sabres? Where does he project in the NHL?
The transition shouldn’t be a problem, but there is of course a different kind of game in North America. It is hard to say were he can project, but I think that a player like Pilut needs a lot of time on the ice and a big role to be at his best.
Q: Can you help fans in North America understand how young SHL players are going up against men?
A: There are a lot of young, talented junior players in the SHL every season. The SHL teams all have J20 teams, that are playing in the top junior league (J20 SuperElit) in Sweden. Some of the junior players are under contract with the SHL teams, other J20 players are given chances in the SHL if there are injurys or something like that.
HV71 had, for example, one player (Simon Holmström) born 2001 in one SHL game last season. Most of the young players are given smaller roles on the team and are often used as the seventh defenseman or 13th forward (the teams usually have two goalies and 20 players in the lineups).
Q: Do you want to touch on any of the other Sabres prospects maybe that HV71 has played against? We can get into how the SHL develops players and why so many are drafted.
A: Victor Olofsson is a great goal scorer with a fantastic shot. He is a real scoring threat on the power play and an exciting player to watch. Rasmus Asplund and Marcus Davidsson were both really good players in the SHL last season - smart and responsible players. Rasmus Dahlin is Rasmus Dahlin.
I guess that it is because the young SHL players show that they can play against men, that they can deliver day in and day out in tough competition.
Q: Anything else you’d want to add or think would be cool for people in North America to know?
A: I guess you already know, but Lawrence Pilut’s father is an American and a former hockey player. Larry Pilut played many seasons for the classic Swedish club Tingsryds AIF, and has been their assistant coach for quite some time now. Lawrence Pilut grew up in the same village (Tingsryd) as Arizona Coyotes star Oliver Ekman Larsson. They played together on team Sweden before the 2018 World Championship in Denmark. Lawrence said to me that it was a special feeling playing on the same team as OEL.
Our thanks to Carl for speaking with us about Pilut.