I’ve had the pleasure of tracking Aliaksei Protas’ development on a day-to-day basis since his draft day back in 2019. The four-year effort has included his time with the Prince Albert Raiders in the WHL, where we first interviewed “The Viper”. I also had the extreme pleasure of getting to know Aliaksei’s billet family in Prince Albert, who are wonderful people and remain a huge part of Protas’ hockey journey.
The last four years has also included day-to-day tracking of Protas’ time with Dynamo Minsk in the KHL. It was during this time I began to get a better understanding Protas’ game and how cerebral he is as a person. A fond memory for me that season was seeing Dynamo social media posts from the team plane detailing a wide array of shenanigans going on. Off to the side was Protas, with his head buried in a heady book, seemingly oblivious to all of the noise around him.
The last four years has taught me a lot about Protas as a hockey player, as well as a person. I’m not overstating this when I say he could be the nicest kid in the Capitals organization. Quiet, sharp and respectful, his parents did a great job raising him. (and I include his billet parents in Prince Albert in this, although they will tell you it’s all Aliaksei).
But could Aliaksei be too nice?
During his season in the KHL I began to notice a glaring anomaly in his games stats. There were no recorded hits by Protas. Zero. None. Sometimes the hitless streak would go for several games or even weeks at a time. However, it wasn’t too surprising, as it lined up with his personal demeanor. Protas was not an aggressive person and not an aggressive player with regards to initiating physical contact in the game of hockey.
That assessment is now more widely known, including by Protas himself, who knows he needs to be more agressive and find a bit of “junkyard dog” in his game. Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin relayed similar advice in a recent conversation between the two.
“There was a moment when the two of us stayed to talk. We started talking about hockey. He said I should be more cheeky, bolder with my character,” said Protas in a recent interview with media in Belarus. “It’s not that I’m shy…but I realize now that it may have prevented me from establishing myself somewhere. Listening to Ovechkin, you trust him, believe his words, because if you look at his first game in the NHL, Sasha simply “killed” the man on board in his first shift. And scored twice. And you realize that you really need to be more daring if you want to reach your dreams. There is nothing to be afraid of.”
The advice to be more physical in his game can come from a wide array of coaches, players and mentors, but when it comes from the Great 8, it registers. There is no better evaluator. Protas said he has taken Ovechkin’s advice to heart.
“Now I already understand that there is no other way, it will not work in any other way. I understood that somewhere my psychology in games failed me. Could have been bolder, more impudent. But you really need to see it. A lot can be said with words. It will be seen.”
In Protas’ defense, there has already been a noticeable uptick in his physical play last season and in the postseason with the Hershey Bears. I even saw him get pissed off on more than one occasion. More aggressiveness is needed from the 22-year-old, but I fully believe it will come and come very soon. That’s his perfect player profile, and Protas knows it.
A 6’-6” Belarusian with an attitude and a bit of “junkyard dog” in him would be a very scary site for opponents.
By Jon Sorensen
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