C.J. Smith and Lawrence Pilut both earned their 1st NHL goal on the road in a 5-1 win over the New Jersey Devils on January 8th. For many undrafted free agents like Pilut and Smith who spend most of their time between the AHL and NHL, that 1st goal does not always come. This marks an important milestone for both players and a great sign for the Sabres’ team development and future.
— Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres) January 9, 2019
It is fairly clear how the pieces are starting to fall into place for the core of this organization. Young stars like Jack Eichel, Rasmus Dahlin, Jeff Skinner, Rasmus Ristolainen, and Sam Reinhart are leading the way as Buffalo’s top point-getters with 186 points collectively and serving first line ice time for the majority of the season. Goaltending has been solid as well, with Hutton and Ullmark both posting an over .900 save percentage.
What has not been as clear is how the rest of the puzzle is going to come together. A lot can be said for the remaining players who might not show up on the scoresheet, but are on the roster nightly. However, rotating portions of the team are just as important.
Depth on the roster is key to creating a consistent team and going deep into the playoffs every season. Players who step up during times of injury or poor play need to be able to step in and keep the team going. Smith and Pilut are part of a growing list of depth players the Sabres can rely on.
As highlighted in a feature of Lawrence Pilut by Robert Janish, Jr., Pilut’s future is looking bright following a great season in the SHL and International play. He has played 14 of Buffalo’s 45 games this season with one goal and four assists to show for it. In that time, Pilut floats between 15 and 20 minutes of ice time per game and has a solid plus/minus at +5. Pilut brings a youthful poise to the blue line that fits Coach Phil Housley’s system well.
“He’s a competitor in every sense of the word…He fights for the puck, he wins his battles. He attacks the game the right way.” – Housley
Housley sees Smith in a similar light. Following the win against New Jersey, Housley described him as poised and composed. Smith echoed that confidence in his post-game interview after just his 6th game in the NHL.
His confidence is backed by his strong history of production. Smith boasted 56 goals and 125 total points in his three seasons in the NCAA at UMASS-Lowell. During his time there he was a Hockey East Champion, Tournament MVP, an All-Rookie Team Member, and an All-Tournament Team member.
Smith is having success in the AHL as well with 33 goals and 77 points in his two seasons with the Rochester Americans. Smith understands that his role will not always be on the scoresheet:
“I’ve got to do whatever I can to help contribute to the team, help them win…Some nights that may not be scoring, but I’ve just got to do whatever I can to stay up, and that’s my goal for the rest of the year.” – Smith
This level of confidence and role playing, marked by two 1st NHL goals, is the future of the Sabres. It is an incredible moment shared by the entire team and serendipitous that former roommates headlined the occasion.