Due to the delay in the start of the WHL season, Washington Capitals forward prospect Aliaksei Protas is biding his time playing for Dynamo Minsk in the KHL. The 6’6” forward has already played five games for the Bison, centering the 4th line in all of them. The 19 year-old is averaging 11 minutes of ice time and 14 shifts per game.
Here are Protas’ stats for his first five games in the KHL:
Protas’ first goal in the KHL came last week against Salavat. He would go far side from the top of the right circle for a power play goal.
On Thursday of last week, Protas sat for a lengthy interview with Dmitry Ruto for By.Tribuna.com. Protas discussed being drafted by the Capitals, life in the WHL, deciding to play for Dinamo Minsk, meeting Alex Ovechkin and his experience at his first Capitals development camp. The following are a few translated excerpts from the interview.
You were selected by Washington. Tell us in more detail how this whole procedure goes.
“In my case, everything took place at the Ice Palace in Vancouver. The rink had tables and chairs for managers and players. I didn’t plan to go to the event, but I did, thanks to my agent Dan Milstein, who drove there. On the first day, the first round took place. We, Belarusians, were rooting for Vlad Kolyachonok, because he was one of the contenders for the highest (draft) positions. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out. But the next morning Vlada was drafted 52nd by Florida.”
“It must be said that in the first round, clubs are given about five minutes to make a decision. In the second, three minutes. But there are usually no surprises in these rounds, especially since the clubs come with jerseys that bear the names of the players who will be on this or that team. The rest of the rounds, and there are only seven of them, take place instantly. The team managers name the player they want to see on their team, the host announces the name, and it is displayed on the screen opposite the club name.”
”The process is rather tedious. I went to my phone to look at something. By that time, the players selected 90th and beyond were chosen. Suddenly I hear the name of the team Washington and my last name. I got up, received congratulations from agents, Zhenya Oksentyuk, who was sitting next to me, and other guys from Belarus. You don’t have to go to the stage, as they do in the first round, when the players come out, get their shirts and make a speech. It was easier for us.”
“I approached the managers of “Washington”, and they immediately asked me if I spoke Russian. I was surprised by this question, I thought that I needed to communicate in English. But it turned out that the guy in charge of press relations in Washington was a Russian guy (Sergei Kocharov). He just talked to me.”
“I met the rest of the club representatives, shook hands with everyone, went to take a photo in a jersey, cap and stick. After the photo session I went to the box where the representatives of Washington were, talked with them. They immediately made me a ticket to Washington, and the next morning I flew from Vancouver to Washington.”
And then you flew from Vancouver immediately to Washington?
“Yes, to the development camp. A week after my arrival, I signed a rookie contract. A certain salary is spelled out in the agreement. By the way, many people think that when a player signs such a contract, he is immediately given all this money. It’s not like that. Let’s say $ 760,000 is prescribed, but that will only become my annual salary if I play in the NHL. That is, in fact, these numbers are like an additional incentive to work harder and harder. Yes, the beginner’s contract provides for some kind of signing bonus, but very small. The main amount is if I get into the NHL.”
Did you sleep the night before departure?
“Yes, I managed to take a nap, although I understood that it was necessary to rest, as the difficult flight was ahead. First of all, after the draft, I called my parents. They followed the whole procedure and were very happy. I would like to point out that I am not yet a Washington player, as many people think. It is better to say that this club has shown a substantive interest in me. And in order for me to become a full-fledged hockey player of the team, I still need to work.”
“When I arrived in Washington, I got into a taxi. Nobody met me, but the managers of the club told me to come to the ice rink by taxi, give them a receipt, and then they will return the amount spent on the trip. I checked into a hotel, rested, and the next day the bustle of the camp began. I got a Washington helmet, leggings and shorts, but trained in a Prince Albert jersey.”
Tell us what the locker room looks like for one of the best teams in the NHL.
‘It is worth saying that we worked at a training base in the suburbs (MedStar Capitals Iceplex), it does not stand out in any special way. Two skating rinks, staff rooms, changing room, dining room. In the main arena, no one trains, only games are held there.”
As for Washington’s home arena, I did not notice anything special there either. Locker room in the shape of a half-square, quite comfortable, a small pool, a room for massage, recovery and much more.”
Did you choose a place in the dressing room yourself?
“Everything happens there in this format. You collect your bag, give it to the staff of the club at the hotel, and you yourself get to the stadium on your own a little later. When you arrive in the dressing room, everything is already there. And, accordingly, a place has been determined for you. There was a man sitting next to me, but I don’t remember who. Some of the young, in my opinion. On the second side is a wall. This is the place I was assigned.”
Did you meet Ovechkin in the locker room?
“Sure. For many years, stars like him have already had their place in the locker room, Alexander was at the beginning. Honestly, I looked at him and did not even believe that now I was working next to someone whom I had only recently seen on TV. As if he was in some kind of film, it was hard to believe that the legend of world hockey was next to me. There was no trembling in the knees, but the feelings were special. I remember that I came up to Ovechkin, first to say hello, to get to know him better. We had training sessions at different times, we were in different groups, but one day we still managed to meet him at the base. It was then that I realized that I needed to approach, stop being silent. He introduced himself, I said that I was drafted. Ovechkin said that he saw everything, congratulated me, told me to train, work hard, then everything will work out.”
“The second time we met on the day when Ovechkin was celebrating his birthday. This, by the way, was the day after the preseason game with Chicago, in which I scored three points. I received a portion of praise from a Russian.”
Did you communicate with him in Russian?
“Sure. In general, the team encourages communication in English, but we talked to each other in Russian. As far as I remember, he and the Russian guys went to celebrate separately. And the next day after that I left Washington. In parting, I asked Alexander to sign a piece of paper to give to my brother. But in the end I got a stick with autographs of Ovechkin, Kuznetsov, Orlov and Samsonov.”
“It turned out like that. I assumed that I would go home after my second game [against St. Louis], and so it turned out. And therefore, during our second meeting, I asked Ovechkin to give me an autograph. He said that he would do everything, but tomorrow, at the training base. To which I replied that, most likely, I would already leave. Alexander promised me to send a gift to Canada. It took about two months – I got a stick. Brought it home and gave it to my brother – he was in real ecstasy.”
Why did you assume that you would not be left?
“No, I believed, I hoped that they would give me another chance to prove myself, even then the managers of Washington told me that they liked me, they were ready to give me a chance to play in other preseason games. But the fact is that a couple of days after the game against St. Louis, the season in the WHL began. The coaches and managers said they would follow me. They made it clear that if I stay in Washington, I will get a little playing practice, and in thE WHL I have more chances to progress.”
Tell us about the living conditions in Washington.
“The club provided me with food, hotel accommodations, paid for transport, if necessary. Some money was paid for the camp. But it didn’t really interest me – I was impressed by being on such a team.”
When you went out on the ice before the match with “Chicago”, what did you feel?
“You know, I remember my second game better – against St. Louis. Then almost all the strongest players of “Washington”, plus those who showed themselves in the duel with “Chicago”, went on the ice. I was walking out of the locker room and realized that Evgeny Kuznetsov was walking behind me. I couldn’t believe it.”
“The stands were not packed. We can say that the lower tier of the Minsk-Arena was occupied. But still the feeling was unforgettable. Moreover, we were opposed by guys who really proved their skills in the NHL. I felt completely different speeds, including thinking, I understood what to strive for.”
Did the local newspapers write about you?
“I don’t even know, I haven’t studied the press. I saw that they wrote something on Instagram, people left laudatory comments. But nothing more. To be honest, even after the game against Chicago, in which I scored 1 + 2, I did not get euphoric. I understood what kind of game it was, what its status was, what players entered the game. This is a small step on the way to the NHL. I scored – well done, you need to work further. I talked with Washington coach Todd Rearden before the second game, he praised me, but said that I still need to continue to prove a lot. By the way, this coach is quite young, he played in the NHL with Kovalchuk, and thanks to the Russian he learned Russian. It was interesting to exchange phrases with him in Russian :)”
How long did you spend in Washington?
“About three weeks. Frankly, there was no time to see the city. Training in the morning, then lunch (by the way, we ate either at the hotel or at the base), an hour break, then another training session. And after that – sleep. I was very tired, so I wanted to sleep. By the way, there is generally an early rise – at about seven in the morning we had breakfast. So I saw Washington from the car window, and the White House from the window.”
“I was surprised that there was no traffic jams in the city center, the traffic was intense, but definitely not like in Moscow. Then I realized that this is due to the fact that people live in the suburbs, and they come to the city purely for work moments, to offices.”
You’re talking about training. Are they heavy?
“Not easy, I would say. At the training camp, they gave a lot of stress both on the ground and on the ice. There were enough unusual exercises, thanks to which I felt muscles that I had never felt before. I can’t remember the exercises offhand, but many surprised me. Plus there was a gym. There were workouts when everyone was given the same weight, and there were classes when you were already adjusting yourself. My average bench press is about 107 kg.”
‘You can read the entire interview with Aliaksei Protas here.
By Jon Sorensen