We begin our annual prospect review and forecast series with Aliaksei Protas, center for the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League (AHL). [You can access all of our Capitals Prospect Reports and player analysis on our “Prospects” page right here.]
Protas is a 6’6”, 210 lb left-handed center, drafted by the Washington Capitals in the third round (#91 overall) of the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. The 20-year-old Belarusian spent last season playing for Dinamo Minsk in the KHL and the Hershey Bears in the AHL. He also played for the Belarus national team this spring in the World Championship. 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 Prince Albert Raiders in the WHL. Protas would eventually work his way up to the top line by the end of the season, with Brett Leason and Sean Montgomery, and 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 for the Raiders, 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). Still a decent finish.
The 2020-21 season was jam-packed with hockey for Protas. While many prospects were struggling to find ice time, Protas would play from September to May. He began the season as a loan to Dinamo Minsk in the KHL. He would record 10 goals and eight assists in 58 regular season games and one goal and three assists in five postseason games before being re-assigned to Hershey in April. He would record two goals and five assists in 16 games while in Chocolatetown. Protas would then leave for the World Championship in Riga, Latvia, and record two assists in six games played.
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 2020-2021 season. You can find all of our weekly and monthly prospect reports on our “Prospects” page in the top menu.
Protas was officially loaned to Dinamo Minsk on August 7th and would play in his first KHL exhibition game on August 15 against HC Gomel, centering the second line for Dinamo. He would record a power play goal.
Protas would ultimately start the regular season centering the Bison’s 4th line and remained there for most of the games in the month of September. He also saw consistent time on the power play.
Protas scored his first career KHL goal against Salavat Yulaev Ufa on September 7. The tally came on the power play.
The 6’6″ center scored his second career KHL goal against Vityaz on September 15. The score also came on the power play.
Protas scored his third goal of the KHL season on September 25 against Avtomobilist. The tally came on the power play.
Protas was also used in the shootout against Traktor on September 27, but his attempt was unsuccessful.
Protas was elevated from 4C to 3C for the last game of the month against Servestal. He recorded his first assist of the month, a primary helper on Dinamo’s last tally, an open netter.
Protas tied Dynamo Minsk’s record for goals in a season by a 19-year-old player on October 11. Yegor Sharangovich, who in the 2017/18 season scored four goals in 47 games had the record. Protas recorded four goals in just 14 games.
The tally came just 9:50 into the first period, giving Dinamo Minsk an early 1-0 lead. The goal came at even strength, which was his first career KHL goal at even strength.
The goal also put Protas in the top 10 in the KHL for goals scored for players under the age of 20. He was asked following the game if he knew that.
“Not really. Sometimes, somewhere on the Internet, something may catch your eye. I mainly concentrate on team tasks, I try to fulfill the coaching directive. If you do it, then everything will come. I work on my weak qualities in the game, try to improve them. The results will come.“
Protas was elevated from 3C to 2C on October 16 against Lokomotiv, but was held off the scoresheet in a tight 1-0 loss. Due to COVID-19 issues with several team veterans, Protas spent 19:57 on the ice – more than any other forward on both teams. He was asked about it following the game:
“I had to play a lot, but there weren’t many options, because all the leaders are in the infirmary, we are waiting for their return. Hopefully they’ll be back in service soon. Of course, I had to take responsibility and fulfill the role of a leader. Everyone, in principle, had to take the initiative.”
“Of course, our leaders were missing. I think we did well. For many guys, this was their first KHL game of the season, some even made their debut in the league. Therefore, they were nervous in the first period. Then we rolled in and played quite well on defense.”
Protas’ ice time dropped as the month progressed and key players returned from COVID-19 and other injuries. Protas was dropped to 4C against CSKA on October 23.
For the season, Protas had four goals and one assist in 21 games played.
Protas did not play in the first game of the month against Lokomotiv on November 1. He was a healthy scratch for the first time this season. The team then had off until November 11.
The head coach of Dynamo Minsk, Craig Woodcroft, contracted the coronavirus, the press service of the Belarusian club announced on November 9. “I feel good. The disease is running with few symptoms, so I hope to get through this period with minimal losses. It is much more difficult to take quarantine for granted. And, of course, it is very frustrating to see the virus thwart the team’s plans. It is devastating.” The interim head coach during the period was former Washington Capital Mikhail Grabovsky.
Protas scored his fifth career KHL goal against Sibir on November 11. The tally set a Dinamo Minsk franchise record for most goals by a 19-year-old in a single season. The tally came at 10:40 of the first period. Protas would redirect a shot from the left point for the score.
Yegor Sharangovich, who in the 2017/18 season scored four goals in 47 games, previously held the record. Protas recorded four goals in just 14 games and set the new franchise record in just 22 games.
The goal also helped Dinamo Minsk reach another milestone in the game. They scored five goals in 10:57 of the first period. That was the fastest time a KHL team had recorded five goals in a game.
Protas was elevated from 3C to 1C against Barys for the next game on November 15. The top line would score three of four goals in Dinamo’s 4-1 win over Barys. Protas had two assists in the game.
Protas was named KHL Rookie of the Week on November 16. Protas, who won three of three away games with his team that week, scored 3 (1+2) points.
After leading the Bison on a 3-0 road trip, which included a game where Protas played center on the top line and recorded two assists, Protas would record his sixth goal of the season in Dinamo’s homecoming against Sochi on November 19.
The tally came at the 10:54 mark of the opening frame, tying the game 1-1. Protas would find the open ice in the slot, gather a pass from below the goal and wrist one top left for the score.
Dinamo Minsk would tie the game 2-2 with 11 seconds remaining in regulation, sending the game into overtime. Dinamo Minsk would win it 2:22 into the extra frame with a goal from Kozun Brandon.
Dinamo’s head coach was asked about Protas’ play the following day. “After the international break, Alexei Protas is playing great games. Before that, he had a slight decline. But we talked to him, tried to explain where he needs to improve his game. And now he’s playing really good hockey. He manages to score, he plays a big role on the team. This is a very talented hockey player who has a great future,” Craig Woodcroft is sure.
Protas would return to center the top line in the next game on November 21 against CSKA.
For the month, Protas had two goals and two assists in eight games played. For the season he had six goals and three assists in 28 games played. Protas was in the top three in points in the KHL for players under 20.
Protas returned to center the top-line on December 11 against Ak Bars. He would move throughout the lineup towards the end of the month after Dinamo Minsk lost their top center to the NHL. Towards the end of the month Protas would be relegated to the fourth-line due to lack of offensive production.
The Western Hockey League (WHL) announced on December 15 that it will delay the start of the 2020-21 WHL Regular Season. The Board of Governors will meet in January to consider potential start dates. This meant more time in the KHL, as Protas was not recalled for Capitals training camp.
Protas was also extremely quiet during the month of December. He would generate just 11 shot attempts and six shots on goal in nine games in December. For the month of December, Protas had no goals and two assists in nine games. For the season he had six goals and five assists in 37 games.
Protas was not recalled to attend the Capitals’ training camp in mid-January. Protas, who ended December centering the fourth-line for Dinamo Minsk, was elevated to center the third-line for the first game of the month on January 3, but returned to the fourth-line for the second game of the month on January 5 and remained there for the entire month; Protas turned 2o on January 6.
Protas dropped down to the fourth-line again on January 9 against Dynamo Moscow, as Minsk would lose the game 2-0. He finally returned to the goal-scoring department on January 29; it was his first goal since November 19.
Вот так Алексей Протас броском слету открывает счёт 🔥 pic.twitter.com/tqbFDLZ7Dd
— ХК Динамо-Минск | HC Dinamo Minsk (@hcdinamoby) January 29, 2021
For the month of January, Protas recorded one goal and two assists in 12 games played. He recorded just 11 shots on goal and 18 shot attempts in the 12 games played.
Protas’ shot characteristics for the season through January:
Protas scored his 8th goal of the season on February 7 against Sochi. He was moved up from the 4th line to center the second line in this game.
— Хоккей Беларуси | Hockey.by (@hockey_blr) February 7, 2021
Protas would record a goal and the overtime game winner on February 18 against Jokerit.
🤩Протас забрасывает девятую шайбу в КХЛ! pic.twitter.com/kIuXQIRL2P
— Хоккей Беларуси | Hockey.by (@hockey_blr) February 18, 2021
— Хоккей Беларуси | Hockey.by (@hockey_blr) February 18, 2021
Dinamo Minsk head coach had high praise for Protas following the game.
“As we said earlier at press conferences, this season is the first for Alexei in adult hockey, and he plays very well and confidently. Knows what he needs to do both in defense and attack, and also rarely makes mistakes. Acting alongside such masters as Rob Klinkhammer and Brandon Kozun, Alexey gets the opportunity to develop much faster and show his strengths: he can give a good pass, open up for the pass, be in the right place and complete the attack. In general, we are watching the process of becoming Protas as a player.”
Protas was named player of the game.
Protas added a goal and an assist on February 23 against Amur.
Dinamo Minsk officially made the playoffs on February 22 for the first time in the 2016/17 season. It was not clear if Protas would have time after the KHL season to return to the Prince Albert Raiders of the WHL who began play on March 12, but that will likely depend on how far Dinamo Minsk goes in the postseason.
March was a whirlwind for Protas. He wrapped up his first KHL regular season and played in his first KHL postseason. Dinamo Minsk was eliminated in the first round, but Protas was thriving, and was named the best rookie for the first round of the postseason. On March 6, Protas notched his first professional postseason goal.
🤩Алексей Протас забрасывает в ворота СКА! pic.twitter.com/3b0D49LEBA
— Хоккей Беларуси | Hockey.by (@hockey_blr) March 6, 2021
on March 10, Protas had two assists.
Шайба Варфоломеева – то, о чем мы мечтали после его возвращения 🤩 pic.twitter.com/p739QJsIV7
— ХК Динамо-Минск | HC Dinamo Minsk (@hcdinamoby) March 10, 2021
His second assist.
В четвертой игре против СКА Мосалёв забросил победную шайбу. Станет ли его гол решающим сегодня? 🧐 pic.twitter.com/vqfpPhXnTH
— ХК Динамо-Минск | HC Dinamo Minsk (@hcdinamoby) March 10, 2021
Protas had two assists in Dinamo Minsk’s 4-3 OT loss to CKA. CKA took the series 4-1, ending Protas’ KHL season. Protas was asked about his season with Dinamo Minsk following the game.
“It was my first season at such a high professional level. I believe that with each match I have progressed in different components thanks to coaches, experienced partners, and playing practice in such a strong league. I especially added in terms of psychology, understanding how to play: go out and fight in every episode. In words, this is understandable, but you have to go through it at this level.”
Protas was named “Best Rookie” for the first round of this year’s KHL playoffs. This is the first time in KHL history that a Dinamo Minsk player was nominated for the playoff award.
In five games of the Gagarin Cup playoffs, the 20-year-old Belarusian forward scored a goal, had three assists and averaged 17:12 in time on ice. In the entire history of Dinamo Minsk, only one Belarusian scored more point than Protas in a single playoff round. (Alexander Kulakov had one goal and four assists in 2011 in the series against Lokomotiv).
“I am glad that I received such recognition, this is a nice bonus to the season, which turned out to be fruitful. In this playoff series I really wanted to help the team. Everyone fought, played at the maximum, a lot turned out, but, unfortunately, the final result is not what we were striving for. Everyone wanted to advance to the next round,” said Protas in an interview for the Dinamo website.
Protas’ KHL coach, Craig Woodcroft, discussed his development in the KHL this season:
“I think first and foremost, we helped him to become a responsible, 200-foot player. We taught him about the importance of his play away from the puck. I’d like to believe that we held him accountable to a high level. We spent an awful lot of time building up his physical strength and his conditioning so that he could unleash and unlock his potential on the KHL platform. The opportunities that we provided him, you have to earn them—and he earned them. The opportunity to get powerplay time, to get time playing with some of our top players.”
Protas arrived in the states on Monday, March 22 and first practiced with the Bears on Friday, March 26. He made his AHL debut in March 31.
The rookie pivot from Belarus got off to a good start in his AHL career. In his first month as an AHL player, Protas posted a three-game point streak from April 7 to April 17. He picked up his first AHL point when he had the secondary assist on Joe Snively’s game-winning goal against Binghamton on April 7.
Protas netted his first AHL goal in the opening period against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on April 11. He collected the puck out front after a tap feed from Joe Snively and snapped a low shot in to give the Bears a 1-0 lead.
— NoVa Caps (@NoVa_Caps) April 11, 2021
It would prove to be the game-winning tally. In his next game on April 17, Protas recorded his first two-point game in the AHL when he dished out a pair of assists against Binghamton. He would go scoreless in his last four games of the month.
The Belarussian snapped a six-game scoreless drought on May 5, when he recorded a secondary helper on Damien Riat’s first period goal. Protas broke a 10-game goalless streak on May 15 against Binghamton. He gathered the puck just outside the defensive blue line and sped forward. Protas pushed the puck ahead and then slid the puck through Jeremy Brodeur’s five-hole to give the Bears a 2-1 lead.
— NoVa Caps (@NoVa_Caps) May 15, 2021
He closed his season with an assist on Connor McMichael’s opening goal on May 16. In 16 games, Protas potted two goals and had five assists.
It was Protas’ first AHL action and he showed signs of being a productive player. He is strong on the puck and skates well. He will benefit from a full training camp and should improve next season.
Following the conclusion of the AHL season, Protas quickly departed for Europe to join the Belarus national team for this year’s World Championship in Riga, Latvia. He had an assist on May 26 against Great Britain.
— Steven Ellis (@StevenEllisTHN) May 26, 2021
A good video breakdown of Protas’ game against Great Britain can be found here.
Protas earned another assist against Denmark on May 28. He would win the draw and send the puck up top to setup the score.
— IIHF (@IIHFHockey) May 28, 2021
TRENDING – UP
At 6’6”, 210 lbs, Protas continues to be a beast in front of the net. His passing skills were once again excellent for the entire season, in all zones. Protas shot the puck just 79 times for a 12.1% shooting percentage in the KHL. He needs to shoot more.
One area that he shied away from in the KHL was the physical game. He recorded just 17 hits in 58 games during the regular season. With his size, he needs to begin to force his way to the puck and dominate.
Protas will return to Hershey for his first full season in the AHL this fall. He will be looking to focus on his skating and game speed, his play around the puck, as well as provide more of a leadership role for the coming season.
By forgoing a typically mandatory third season in the WHL due to the pandemic, Protas accelerated his development by a full year, and should be in serious discussions for a callup and time with the Capitals beginning in the fall of 2022.
By Jon Sorensen
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