The 2020-21 season was jam-packed full of hockey for Aliaksei Protas. While most other hockey prospects world wide were struggling to find ice time and ultimately played just a handful of games because of the Covid pandemic, Protas would play from August straight through to May.
Protas began his 2020-21 campaign as a loan to Dinamo Minsk in the KHL. The NHL, AHL and all of the other leagues in North America were heading for lengthy closures due to the pandemic, but Protas was heading home to play a full season in the KHL.
The North American shutdown would prevent Protas from returning to Prince Albert for a third season in the WHL, and by rule, he was too young to play in the AHL, which was shutting down anyway. The KHL was his only real option. It turned out to be the best move of his career.
Protas would record 10 goals and eight assists in 58 regular season games and one goal and three assists in five postseason games for Dynamo Minsk before being re-assigned to the Hershey Bears in April. Simply put, Protas became a pretty good pro player while in Russia.
During his full season in Russia’s premiere league Protas set the Dynamo Minsk team record for goals scored by a 19-year old (here), was named KHL’s rookie of the week in November (here) and was named the KHL’s best rookie for the first round of the playoffs (here).
Dinamo Minsk head coach Craig Woodcroft (Blackhawks, Predators) had high praise for Protas before he left for North America.
“As we said earlier at press conferences, this season is the first for Aliaksei in adult hockey, and he plays very well and confidently. Knows what he needs to do both on defense and on the attack, and rarely makes mistakes. Playing alongside such masters as Rob Klinkhammer and Brandon Kozun, Aliaksei 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 Protas becoming a player.”
Dynamo Minsk was eliminated in the second round of the playoffs and Protas immediately jumped a plane for the states, as the AHL was just starting-up their Covid-abbreviated season. Protas, and all other CHL players, were given a one-time age exemption to play in the AHL because of the pandemic. Another huge break for Protas.
While in Hershey Protas would record two goals and five assists in 16 games for the Bears. Protas would then leave Hershey for the World Championship in Riga, Latvia, and record two assists in six games played.
Protas played a whopping total of 86 games in 2020 and 2021, all while most other prospects played maybe a handful of games and some, (Martin Has, Mitchell Gibson) played none at all. Arguably his best year of hockey to date.
By Jon Sorensen
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