We continue our annual prospect review and forecast series with Aliaksei Protas, center for the Prince Albert Raiders of the Western Hockey League (WHL). (You can access all of our Capitals Prospect Reports and player analysis on our “Prospects” page right here.)
Protas, a 6’6”, 210 lb left-handed center, was drafted by the Washington Capitals in the third round (#91 overall) of the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. The 19-year-old Belarusian has spent the last two seasons with the Prince Albert Raiders of the WHL. Protas signed a three-year entry-level contract for $825,833 AAV on July 10, 2019.
The 2018-2019 season was Protas’ first in North America. For the season he would record 11 goals and 29 assists in 61 games (.65 points per game) for the Raiders. Protas would eventually work his way up to the top line by the end of the season, with Brett Leason and Sean Montgomery. The Raiders would go on to win the Ed Chynoweth Cup. Protas would also record two goals and three assists for the Bealrus Junior team in the World Juniors.
The 2019-2020 season was a tale of two seasons for the Viper. Protas, who was selected as an Alternate Captain, started the season with 18 goals and 24 assists in 27 games (1.55 points per game) before departing for the World Juniors at the end of November. Following a very good showing for Team Belarus where he recorded four goals and three assists in just five games (1.40 points per game), Protas returned to Prince Albert in late December. The second half of the season was not as productive. He recorded 13 goals and 25 assists in 31 games (1.22 points per game).
2019-2020 MONTH-BY-MONTH RECAP AND TREND ANALYSIS
The following month-by-month breakdown is an aggregation of our monthly prospect reports prepared during the 2019-2020 season. You can find all of our weekly and monthly prospect reports on our “Prospects” page in the top menu.
Protas, who will turn 19 in January, is playing in his third and final year at the CHL level, and taking full advantage of his veteran status. Protas had a goal and two assists in the Capitals’ first preseason game, but was cut from Capitals’ training camp on September 19, in time to make Prince Albert’s opening game the following day. Protas would score a goal in the season opener. Protas was named to the Raiders’ leadership group on October 15 as an assistant captain (A). For the season, “The Viper of Vitebsk” has nine goals and 10 assists in 14 games played. He has spent a majority of the games centering the Raiders’ third-line, but did spend some time as the top-line center in October, during which he registered 42 shots for a 21.4% shooting percentage.
“The Viper” had another pretty good month, scoring nine goals and 14 assists in 13 games played in the month of November. For the season, Protas has 18 goals and 24 assists in 27 games played. He’s registered 87 shots for a shooting percentage of 20.7% on the season. Protas finished the month of November first in points and second in goals scored in the WHL. However, after watching eight of his games this month, the most noticeable improvement to his game has been his passing. Protas is showing excellent vision and is reading plays quickly, finding open ice, or finding the open man in the zone. (See weekly reports 7-10 for video examples) He’s also shown improved play on the penalty kill and had an impressive shorthanded steal and score (here) torwards the end of the month. Teammate Spencer Moe was asked about the improvement in Protas’ play so far this season. “He’s got more confidence and a better understanding of our systems after being here with the championship team last year and I think it shows,” Moe added. “He was able to sign a contract with Washington in the summer as a result of that, which is something that all of us are proud of.” At 6’,6”, the question will always be can he move and react quick enough at the next level, but those concerns seem to be tempered a bit after watching the November games. Protas is now in Minsk to take part in Belarus’ camp for the 2020 IIHF World Under-20 Championship – Division 1A. This will be the second consecutive year that Protas represents Belarus at the Division 1A tournament. Last year, he had five points (two goals, three assists) in five games as Belarus finished in second place. He also suited up for Belarus at the 2018 World Under-18 Hockey Championship.
Aliaksei Protas had a very productive final month to 2019. He began December back in Belarus with the National Junior Team, preparing for and participating in the 2020 IIHF World Under-20 Championship – Division 1A. This was the second consecutive year that Protas represented Belarus at the Division 1A tournament. Last year, he had five points (2G-3A) in five games as Belarus finished in second place. He also suited up for Belarus at the 2018 World Under-18 Hockey Championship. As for this year’s tournament, Protas had four goals and three assists in five games played. He was tied for second with most goals and fourth in overall points for the tournament. Belarus finished with the Bronze medal. The Alternate Captain conducted an interview with Belarus media. “I am doing my best to show the best that I am capable of, but so far I’m not very pleased with myself.” I think that in some moments the criticism is justified, and in some – not particularly. In any case, I try to watch my games, analyze, add with each match and become better.“ Protas returned to Prince Albert on December 27 for a pair of games against the Saskatoon Blades, where he picked up right where he left off, scoring two goals and three assists in the weekend set. Protas continued his scoring on Monday with a pair of assists against the Winnipeg Ice, the points extending Protas’ points streak to 12 games. In those 12 games, Protas has eight goals and 13 assists. For the season, Protas now has 20 goals and 29 assists in 30 games played, and is a plus-29. Protas has 102 shots on goal for a shooting percentage of 19.6%. He is currently fifth in points in the WHL, just eight points behind the the league leader, which is pretty good considering he was back home in Belarus for most of the month. Protas is currently centering the “All-Belarusian” line with Ilya Usau and Daniil Stepanov, and playing in all situations (first power play unit and first penalty kill unit). Our scouting report continues to evolve for Protas this season, as he is beginning to show significant advancement in his overall game development. His on-ice play has seen quite a bit of growth for the 18-year old. In the 14 games we’ve watched this season, his passing has been the biggest improvement, demonstrating excellent vision on the ice at game speed. Protas’ teammate Spencer Moe was asked about the improvement in Protas’ play so far this season. “He’s got more confidence and a better understanding of our systems after being here with the championship team last year and I think it shows,” Moe added. “He was able to sign a contract with Washington in the summer as a result of that, which is something that all of us are proud of.” On a side note, Protas’ height of 6’-5” at the start of the season was changed to 6’-6″ on the WHL website at some point during the month of December.
Protas had an underwhelming month of January. Offensively, his point production has experienced a significant dip. For the month he tallied just two goals and nine assists in 13 games played, including no goals and five assists in the last seven games of the month. Since returning from the World Juniors (12/27) he has recorded four goals and 13 assists.
Protas had another relatively underwhelming month of February, as his game continues to stagnate a bit since returning from World Juniors. However, February was still better than in January, as he managed to record seven goals and seven assists in February; nothing to sneeze at, but his overall offensive production has cooled quite a bit. He’s still firing the puck, but as expected, his shooting percentage has also taken a dip since returning from World Juniors. He has 11 goals and 20 since returning (Late December). So is Protas getting tired? He played 61 total games for Prince Albert last season, and another five games for the Belarus U20 team for a total of 66 games, a career-high. So far this season, Protas has played in 54 games for the Raiders, and another five games for the Belarus U20 team, for a total of 59 games, approaching his career-high. There is not much to worry about at this point. Protas is still very young and raw, and will be returning to the WHL next season, where he can spend the entire season prepping for his next step.
Protas will most likely return to Prince Albert for a third season this fall. The 2019-2020 season was a productive development year for Protas. He showed excellent net-front presence. At 6’6”, 210 lbs, he is a beast in front of the net. His passing skills were also excellent for the entire season, in all zones. Protas, who turned 19 in January, will be looking to focus on his skating and game speed, as well as play around the puck, and provide more of a leadership role for the coming season.
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By Jon Sorensen