Photo: Prince Albert Raiders
This is the story of two young hockey players, born just 20 months apart and nearly half a world away from each other, who would eventually become teammates and linemates in the WHL, the AHL and the NHL.
Brett Leason was born in Calgary, Canada on April 30, 1999. Aliaksei Uladzimiravich Protas was born in Vitebsk, Belarussia on January 6, 2001. The two prospects were born 20 months and a half a world apart, but they had one thing in common – their love for hockey.
Leason, now 6’-5”, played for the Calgary Flames junior hockey system in various age groups and also for the North West Calgary Athletic Association Stampeders before ending up with the Tri-City Americans in the Western Hockey League (WHL). He found himself on a team full of older, established players, so it was difficult for him to carve out a role on the team. Then on October 27, 2017, when Leason was 18 years old and already passed over in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, the Tri-City Americans traded Leason to the Prince Albert Raiders for a 3rd Round WHL Bantam Draft Pick in 2018.
The Americans’ General Manager, Bob Tory, justified the trade, saying, “with an abundance of forwards on our roster, some changes to reduce our numbers were necessary. To receive a quality draft pick in return, we needed to move a good player. We wish Brett all the best with his career in Prince Albert.”
The Raiders’ General Manager, Curtis Hunt, spoke about their team’s acquisition of Leason, “Brett will be a good compliment [sic] to our group of forwards. He has good size and a good hockey sense.”
Getting traded to the Raiders was the tonic his offensive game needed. Leason scored 15 goals and 17 assists for 32 points overall during the 2017-18 season, but was still passed over for the 2019 NHL Entry Draft.
Protas played two seasons with the Under 17 Team Belarus in the Belarus Vysshaya Liga, the second level hockey league in Belarus, before coming over to the Prince Albert Raiders for the 2017-18 season.
Protas figured it would be better for his development to play Canadian Junior hockey instead of remaining in Belarus. It was the first of many smart moves for the 6’-6” forward.
2018-19 Season with Prince Albert Raiders
Leason and Protas first became teammates with the Prince Albert Raiders for the 2018-19 season. Leason blossomed offensively and scored 36 goals with 53 assists in 55 games. Protas, who was generally one of his linemates, scored 11 goals with 29 assists for 40 points overall. Leason won the team’s Dave Balon Award for Leading Scorer.
The Raiders advanced to the Western Hockey League championship and won the Western Hockey League championship for the first time in 34 years. Both Leason and Protas contributed significantly to the championship, with Leason scoring 10 goals and recording 15 assists in 22 games and Protas scoring 12 goals and recording 10 assists in 23 games.
Leason also represented Team Canada in the IIHF Under 20 World Junior Games, scoring three goals and recording two assists in five games.
Protas represented Belarus in the 2019 IIHF World Under-20 Championship Division 1A.
2019 NHL Entry Draft
The heroics of Leason and Protas for the 2018-19 season were not lost on NHL scouts when it came time for the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. The Washington Capitals drafted Leason in the second round of that draft with the 56th overall pick. They envisioned him growing into the same type of role that Tom Wilson held.
After that, the Capitals traded a fourth round pick (118th overall) and a fifth round pick (129th overall) to the New Jersey Devils in order to move up to the third round with the 91th overall pick. With the pick, they drafted Leason’s Prince Albert linemate Aliaksei Protas.
The careers of Protas and Leason diverged following the 2018-19 season. Protas returned to Prince Albert where he had an amazing year, scoring 31 goals with 49 assists in 58 games. Protas won the team’s Dave Balon Award for Leading Scorer, the same award Leason earned the prior season. Protas also once again represented Belarus in the 2020 IIHF World Under-20 Championship Division 1A.
Leason was assigned to the Capitals’ AHL farm team, the Hershey Bears, that season. He recorded nine goals and had 11 assists. Neither of them participated in any playoff games as their seasons were shortened due to the COVID pandemic.
The COVID pandemic delayed the start of many hockey leagues throughout the world for the 2020-21 season, including all Canadian Junior hockey leagues, the AHL and the NHL. Protas was originally scheduled to return to the Prince Albert Raiders but the Western Hockey League schedule seemed to be in a holding pattern.
As Kontinental Hockey League action was still taking place, Protas was lent to Dynamo Minsk, the KHL team in his home country so he could get in some game action. He ultimately spent the entire season there, scoring 10 goals and recording 8 assists in 58 games. He played in five playoff games, scoring one goal and recording three assists.
He then joined the Bears after Dynamo Minsk was eliminated from the KHL playoffs. He played in 16 games for the Bears, scoring two goals and recording five assists. Unlike most professional hockey players or prospects during that pandemic season, Protas played a heavy schedule of games From September through May to include a full KHL season, one round of the playoffs and then 16 additional games in the AHL with Hershey for 79 games. After the AHL concluded, he represented his native country in the World Championships in Riga, Latvia.
Leason was idle for the early part of the season but rejoined the Bears as soon as the AHL resumed action in early February, 2021. He played in 33 games, scoring nine goals and recording 11 assists. When Protas joined the Bears after his KHL season was finished, it marked a reunion of the two former Prince Albert Raiders prospects. They would immediately share a line once again.
After attending Capitals’ training camp, Both Protas and Leason were assigned to the Hershey Bears to start the 2021-22 season. But with injuries to Caps forwards, they were both eventually called up. The Caps called Leason up on October 24 after T.J. Oshie was placed on injured reserve. While he was technically sent down to Hershey on November 20 while the team was on their West Coast road trip, he never physically left the team and was recalled only one day later.
Protas was recalled to Washington on November 1, when Nic Dowd was placed on injured reserve. He was returned to Hershey on November 4 but recalled the very next day when Anthony Mantha was placed on injured reserve. He was returned to Hershey once more but then recalled on November 10 and has remained with Washington ever since.
With both Protas and Leason now playing with the Washington Capitals, it’s their third team together. It is likely easier for both to adjust to NHL game action when surrounded by familiar faces, not just of each other but of other Hershey Bears’ teammates, too, as several of their teammates from the last two seasons had also been recalled during November, including Connor McMichael and Axel Fjallby-Jonsson.
Leason has scored two goals and recorded one assist during his tenure with the team. He currently centers the fourth line.
Oh yes Brett Leason! pic.twitter.com/Zm2XXhVepT
— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) November 1, 2021
Protas scored his first goal on Sunday and has recorded three assists. He seems to have found a home as a power forward on the first line.
Welcome to the NHL, Aliaksei Protas!!!
Protas’ first career goal give the Capitals a 2-0 lead in Carolina!
(That’s two goals for the top line today) pic.twitter.com/jld9by61Zu
— NBC Sports Washington (@NBCSWashington) November 28, 2021
By Diane Doyle