Tuesday, June 07, 2022

Washington Capitals: 2021--2022 By the Tens -- Forwards: Aliaksei Protas

Aliaksei Protas

“Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet.”
-- Jean-Jacques Rousseau

As the 2019 Entry Draft began, the Washington Capitals did not have a third round pick, that (the 87th overall) having been sent to the Los Angeles Kings as part of a deal that brought Carl Hagelin to Washington. But the Caps thought enough of Aliaksei Protas to package their fourth and fifth round picks (118th and 129th overall) and send them to the San Jose Sharks for their third round pick (91st overall).  Protas had just completed his first season with the Prince Albert Raiders, a teammate of fellow Caps draft pick Brett Leason, who was taken in the second round (56th overall) in that same 2019 draft.  While Leason was putting up 36 goals and 89 points in that season before his being drafted by the Caps, Protas finished with a more modest 11-29-40 scoring line in 61 games before the Caps took him in the draft.  Protas had a much more productive second season with the Raiders in 2019-2020, going 31-49-80 in 58 games, all three numbers leading the team.  He would spend parts of two seasons continuing his apprenticeship with the Hershey Bears (10-21-31, minus-2, in 58 games) and getting his first taste on NHL action with 33 games in 2021-2022.

Fearless’ Take… If 2021-2022 was, in some respects, “The Year of the Rookie” in Washington, Protas figured prominently among the 11 rookie skaters to dress for the Caps.  His 33 games were fourth among rookies, his 11:50 in ice time per game ranked second among rookies appearing in more than one game, his three goals tied Leason for fourth in that group, and his nine points were third.  He finished with a plus-4 rating, second among the rookies, his plus-5 goal differential at even strength was second I the group, and his 0.27 points per game were second among the eight rookies appearing in at least five games. The Caps won all three games in which he scored goals and were 7-1-0 in games in which he recorded points.

Cheerless’ Take… He was a bit sloppy with the puck, charged with 15 giveaways against eight takeaways.  Despite his size (6’6/225 pounds), he had only 3.07 hits per 60 minutes, seventh among the 11 Caps rookies.  In 20 games in which he skated at least ten minutes, the Caps were 10-8-2, while they were 7-4-2 in the 13 games in which he logged fewer than ten minutes.  And it was not as if the Caps were all that successful when he was in the lineup.  They were 17-12-4 when he played, 27-14-8 when he didn’t.

Odd Protas Fact… Protas was taken by the Caps in the third round of the 2019 draft, 91st overall.  No player selected after him has yet appeared in more regular season games.

Odd Protas Fact II… Protas is the only player in Caps history drafted by and having played for the Caps who was born in Belarus.

Odd Protas Fact III… When Protas was taken with the 91st overall pick, it marked the seventh time in Capitals history that teammates were selected with consecutive picks (Brett Leason, taken earlier, also being from Prince Albert).  The others were in 2015 (Connor Hobbs and Colby Williams from Regina), 2012 (Connor Carrick and Riley Barber from the USA U-18 team), 1994 (Chris Patrick and John Tuohy from Kent School), 1990 (John Slaney and Rod Pasma from Cornwall), 1985 (John Druce and Rob Murray from Peterborough), and 1977 (three players – Eddy Godin, Nelson Burton, and Denis Turcotte – from Quebec).

Game to Remember… November 28th at Carolina.  When the Caps visited the Hurricanes in the penultimate game of the November schedule, they were on a roll, going 8-1-1 in their previous ten games.  Aliaksei Protas went into this game having posted the first multi-point game of his career, recording a pair of assists in a 4-3 win over the Florida Panthers.  After a scoreless first period against Carolina, the Caps broke on top with an Alex Ovechkin goal in the 12th minute of the second period.  Just 59 seconds later the all-time leading goal scorer in franchise history was followed by a rookie getting his first NHL goal.  Protas got his first NHL goal in unusual fashion.  John Carlson fired the puck at the Hurricanes’ net, but it skittered into the corner to the right of goalie Frederik Andersen.  Protas tracked it down at the wall and circled around the left wing circle.  He threw the puck to the front of the net, looking to hit Ovechkin with a feed on the weak side.  However, the puck hit the skate of defenseman Tony DeAngelo and snuck past Andersen’s left pad to make it a 2-0 game and put Protas on the list of all-time goal scorers for the Caps.  Washington went on to beat Carolina, 4-2, Protas tying Ovechkin for the team lead in shots for the game (four, his high for a game this season).

Game to Forget… November 1st at Tampa Bay. Sometimes, particular with rookies, it seems, you spend a lot of time sitting on the bench, even when you get a sweater.  Such was the case for Protas in his first NHL game.  It might not have helped that his baptism came against the defending Stanley Cup champions on their ice sheet.  Nevertheless, Protas managed to log just 3:53 in ice time (his lowest of the season) on seven shifts, only one of which he took in the third period.  He recorded no points, no shot attempts, and no crooked numbers of any kind on his line of the score sheet save for winning just one of five faceoffs. 

Postseason… Protas did not dress for any game in the postseason.

Looking Ahead… Aliaksei Protas is another of those players who fit a profile preferred by the Caps, mainly size.  He does appear to have the potential to be a reliable secondary scorer who plays mainly a bottom-six role, perhaps getting top-six minutes from time to time.  He has two years remaining on his current contract with a $789,000 cap hit, after which he will be a restricted free agent. He will not reach his 22nd birthday until January, so the Caps would appear to have the luxury of bringing him along slowly.

In the End…

Protas is a player that the Caps might be depending on to be a secondary player in the post-Ovechkin/Backstrom era.  He has the size to compete at this level and has shown occasional signs of being a player who can contribute on the scoreboard.  His 2021-2022 season suggested the possibility that his apprenticeship will be brief, but at this point it would be a stretch to think he will be a regular fixture next season, even with a decent start to his NHL career in 2021-2022.

Grade: B