Next up in our annual prospect review and forecast series is Aliaksei Protas, forward 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 forward, drafted by the Washington Capitals in the third round (#91 overall) of the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. The 21-year-old Belarusian spent the last two seasons playing for Dinamo Minsk in the KHL and the Hershey Bears in the AHL. He also played for the Belarus national team last spring in the World Championship. Protas signed a three-year entry-level contract for $825,833 AAV on July 10, 2019 and had two entry-level “slide” seasons. He will a restricted free agent at the end of the 2024-25 season.
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 (WHL Championship). 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 very 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 Hershey for the World Championship in Riga, Latvia, and record two assists in six games played.
The 2021-22 season was another excellent development season for the 6’-6” forward. Protas made his NHL debut on Nov. 1, 2021, against the Tampa Bay Lightning and recorded nine points (3g, 6a) in 33 games with the Capitals this season. Protas would return to Hershey in February and demonstrated very little if any slump time after experiencing the NHL. Protas was arguably the Bears best forward in April, recording two goals and seven assists for the offensively challenged Bears.
2021-2022 MONTH-BY-MONTH RECAP AND TREND ANALYSIS
The following is a compilation of our month-by-month prospect reports for Aliaksei Protas during the 2021-2022 season. You can find all of our monthly prospect reports on our “Prospects” page in the top menu.
Protas posted four points in six games in October. He missed the final game of the month on October 31 due to a pending recall to the NHL. The Belarussian center potted the first goal at Charlotte on October 22, converting a feed from Axel Jonsson-Fjallby.
— Jon Sorensen (@jon_m_sorensen) October 22, 2021
Protas has three assists on the season, including one on Jonsson-Fjallby’s game-winning goal versus Lehigh Valley on October 17. The former Prince Albert Raider is playing with more confidence than he did during his 16 games in the AHL last season.
Protas has been effective on faceoffs and has had good chemistry with linemates Jonsson-Fjallby and Brett Leason. Protas made his NHL debut on November 1 against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Protas skated in two games with the Bears in November. Protas dished out a first period assist against Springfield on November 7. Protas had a series of callups to the Capitals and returns to Hershey over the last month. On his third callup he remained with the Capitals and played in every game.
Protas netted his first career NHL goal in Carolina on November 28. The Belarusian has also dished out three helpers with the Capitals.
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
Protas has demonstrated he is very close to an everyday role with the team, regardless of his near-term assignment. He continues to improve in puck battles at the NHL level and has shown the ability to create plays at NHL-level speed. He has demonstrated his physical play along the boards is also NHL-ready. The question will be, where will he fit in the near term, with regards to an everyday role in Washington. In the “big picture” sense, Protas remains ahead of schedule with regards to his projected development trajectory.
The Belarussian pivot spent the entire month with the Washington Capitals. He contributed a goal and an assist in December for the parent club. His goal opened the scoring in a 5-2 win over Columbus on December 4.
— NBC Sports Washington (@NBCSWashington) December 5, 2021
Protas has adapted to the NHL quickly and done a pretty good job for the Capitals, getting consistent starts in the top six. He is holding his own along the board and in puck battles with experienced veterans. He still needs to utilize his 6’-6” frame more, particularly in the physical part of the game. It’s likely we will be removing him from our official prospect roster in the near future.
Protas spent all of January with the Capitals and was re-assigned to Hershey in February 11.
Protas returned to the Bears for the February 11 game in Lehigh Valley and played in Hershey’s final nine games of the month. In his second game back, the center recorded a two-point game. He set up Mike Vecchione’s first period power play goal with a diagonal pass to the left circle from along the goal line. Protas drew a penalty in the second period and then scored on the ensuing power play with a laser from the right circle.
Protas had one assist in his next five games, but then contributed another two-point game in Utica on February 25. His first period power play goal would be all the Bears would need in a 4-0 victory. It was Protas’ first game-winning goal of the season.
— Jon Sorensen (@jon_m_sorensen) February 26, 2022
He also assisted on Brian Pinho’s empty net goal. Protas has 10 points in 17 games with Hershey this season.
After posting a single point in his first seven games in March, Protas’ game came to life in the last five games of the month. He netted two goals and added a pair of helpers in those five contests. [This goal, originally credited to Gersich, was ultimately credited to Protas]
— Capitals Prospects (@jon_m_sorensen) March 19, 2022
Protas potted the game-winning goal against Lehigh Valley on March 23. He was parked in front of the goal and deflected a Cody Franson shot up and over Felix Sandstrom to put the Bears up 2-1 in an eventual 5-1 triumph.
— Capitals Prospects (@jon_m_sorensen) March 23, 2022
The pivot registered his third multi-point game of the season on March 26 when he assisted on a pair of goals in Hartford. He has 15 points in 29 games in Hershey this season. The Bears need Protas to stay hot with all of their offensive injuries.
Protas was Hershey’s best forward in the month of April. It was his most productive month of the season. Protas netted two goals and dished out seven helpers for nine points in the month. The nine points were the most for a Bear in April. His seven assists were tied for the most on the team in the month.
He recorded his first three-point game of the season on April 9 against Springfield. Protas started his night by taking a Mike Vecchione feed behind the net, moving out in front and jamming the puck by Charlie Lindgren to give Hershey a 2-1 lead late in the first.
— Capitals Prospects (@jon_m_sorensen) April 9, 2022
He then picked up the primary helper on Vecchione’s third period goal and added a secondary assist on Cody Franson’s power play marker. Protas would post two more multi-point games in April.
One of these came in Lehigh Valley on the night Hershey clinched a playoff berth. He gave the Bears a 2-1 lead in the second period when he put a shot over the right pad of Felix Sandstrom from the bottom edge of the right circle.
— Capitals Prospects (@jon_m_sorensen) April 23, 2022
He then had the lone helper on Lucas Johansen’s third period tally. Protas’ productive April allowed to end the regular season with eight goals and 16 assists for 24 points in 42 games played. He was awarded with the Jack Gingrich Award as Hershey’s Rookie-of-the-Year.
Protas had another excellent season with regards to development. At 21, Protas is, by most accounts, well ahead of his development schedule and will be a serious contender for a Capitals roster spot in September.
Protas demonstrated he is very close to a more permanent role with the Capitals this season, regardless of his near-term assignment. He continued to improve in puck battles at the NHL level and has shown the ability to create plays at NHL-level speed. He also demonstrated his physical play along the boards is close to NHL-ready.
With the likely absence of Nicklas Backstrom and Tom Wilson, the Capitals will need at least one additional center and winger to start the season. While Connor McMichael and a potential free agent signing will be stiff competition for the 2nd and/or 3rd center position, Protas is primed for, at minimum, a depth center or forward position with the Capitals this season.
Protas also spent time at left wing last season, so his flexibility in the lineup will be a huge asset. Look for Protas to be on the opening night roster in October.
By Jon Sorensen
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