The Washington Capitals have a decent number of forward prospects in their minor league system, and Aliaksei Protas is no exception. After a solid showing in the Western Hockey League (WHL) with the Prince Albert Raiders, where he scored 11 goals and added 29 assists for 40 points during the 2018-19 season, the team selected Protas in the third round of the 2019 NHL Entry Draft at 91st overall.
At 6-foot-6, 225 pounds, his size and scoring ability were an attractive pairing for the Caps to pounce on in the earlier rounds of the draft. The Belarussian forward has experience in both the NHL and American Hockey League (AHL) and has transferred his game well to the professional level. The 22-year-old forward has a contract with the team through the 2023-24 season, and he seems bound to break out.
Recent Success for Protas
The majority of the 2022-23 season has been spent in the NHL for Protas, who has played 42 games with the Capitals and only six with their minor league affiliate — the Hershey Bears. In those six games with the Bears, he has scored one goal and added three assists for four points. While at the NHL level, he has been able to score three goals and add seven assists for ten points.
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While flying under the radar, Protas has had a really strong season with the Capitals. Although his offensive numbers don’t stand out, he is able to play strong away from the puck and uses his body to add a physicality when needed. This is the first season Protas has been able to play most of his time at the highest level, and he is taking advantage of the opportunity presented to him.
After spending some time on loan with Dinamo Minsk of the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) in the 2020-21 season, he returned to Hershey in an attempt to begin transferring his game to the North American style, where he had no issues doing so. He finished the season playing 16 games, scoring two goals and adding five assists for seven points with the Bears.
His first full season of North American hockey came during the 2021-22 season, where he was able to get his first taste of NHL hockey. He scored three goals and added six assists for nine points through his first 33 games, and was up and down between the Capitals and the Bears. He ended up also playing 42 games with the Bears that season, scoring eight goals and adding 16 assists for 24 points.
Protas’ Future in Washington
The future is bright for the young Belarus-born player. I can’t see him needing any more time in the minors, and I think the team has a plan for him moving forward. As a pending restricted free agent (RFA), it’s fairly likely the Caps will try and lock him up for a bit longer than his qualifying offer entails, which is a one-year deal worth $813,750. A left-handed centreman that can play the wing and is useful on the penalty kill is someone the team will want to keep around.
“Protas is a massive centre that NHL teams covet, who is great at creating plays off the rush or on the powerplay and has improved his skating and shot”– DobberProspects (Alexei Protas Player Profile) – Jan, 2023.
There is almost nothing holding Protas back from making himself an NHL mainstay starting next season. The team is looking to move out Lars Eller, which will leave an opening down the middle in their bottom-six. He is an extremely skilled young player that continues to improve his game every time he steps on the ice. I can see Protas cracking the opening night roster for the Capitals next season as the third-line center and moving up the lineup as the year goes on. He remains an underrated player that will likely be looked at as part of the team’s long-term future.