Aliaksei Protas played his first game in the NHL Monday at Capital One Arena. And while it was just a preseason game, Protas will likely remember it forever. The 2019 third-round pick collected three points and was named the first star of the night. He received kudos from both head coach Todd Reirden and Stanley Cup champion Tom Wilson after the game.
Protas helped set up Wilson’s overtime game-winner, scored a goal himself, and used a nifty no-look pass to hit Travis Boyd for a powerplay marker.
“Man, they played unbelievable,” Wilson said of the team’s young stars, including Protas. “I’d go down the list, but I’d be scared to leave somebody out because there were so many of them that played well. I think they carried us for the most part. Obviously, [Protas] and I thought McMichael, they all had pretty strong games.”
The 18-year-old center, the 91st overall pick in this past summer’s draft, signed a three-year entry-level deal with the Capitals in early July after impressing in Development Camp. Protas won a WHL championship and lifted the Ed Chynoweth Trophy last season as a member of the Prince Albert Raiders along with second-round pick Brett Leason. Protas is slated to return to junior hockey this season.
Protas’s first point came on a no-look pass to Travis Boyd 7:06 into the second period. The big rig was playing in TJ Oshie’s normal spot on the Capitals’ powerplay and sent over a perfect touch pass to Boyd in the left circle. The goal tied the game 2-2.
On Protas’s very next shift, he used his speed and size to gain the offensive zone with Beck Malenstyn. The Belarusian then crashed the net and sent a loose puck past Blackhawks goaltender Colin Delia.
On Wilson’s goal, Protas helped start the breakout that led to Wilson’s OT goal where he went coast to coast for the SCOAR.
“It’s pretty fun. I got really good partners,” Protas, who admitted he had pregame jitters, said in the locker room. “We got really good team because of our old guys. They like leaders. They help me a lot. Two young guys who play first game. They help to make it unforgettable for me for sure.”
When asked if he was looking to make the Capitals out of Training Camp, Protas responded that he was only focused on improving.
“First of all, I’m trying to develop. Improve myself,” he said. “Improve my skills, weaknesses, and strength and just have fun with these guys and just learn something new from them.”
During his postgame press conference, Capitals head coach Todd Reirden gushed about Protas’s performance and skills overall but admitted the big man still needs to find more consistency as he continues to mature.
“Just a younger guy that is growing into his body. And so sometimes they don’t look the smoothest at times, but he gets there. He is able to make obviously a great play on the powerplay, and converts going to the net. I liked him at the rookie tournament. I really liked him in the first game at the rookie tournament, and then sometimes you find that players drop off a little bit with the speed and everything as a young player. He kind of went through a little bit of finding his way the next couple of games. And then he came here, and he got a little jolt again, and I was happy to see him have a really strong performance tonight. But that’s an exciting prospect at that size [6-foot-6], to be able to do those things. He’s got good hands in tight areas, as I’ve seen during the big camp here. It was a real valuable experience, and I was happy to try to get him out there at the end. He does a good job for us.
“There are not a lot of guys that look smooth that are at that size. Tom [Wilson] is a guy that if you want to go back a few years [and see] how much better his skating has gotten. So I think that will be a similar path. I don’t think he will ever be able to have that type of speed; Tom’s speed and endurance are the things that separate him and have made him into the top-line player that he is now. But someone that is at that size and has that ability to reach and has hockey sense, we are just touching the surface with this player. So it’s exciting for our organization, and a real credit to our scouts for doing a great job of finding a player like him.”
CAPS TODAY: Capitals forward Aliaksei Protas, who was selected in the third round, 91st overall, in the 2019 NHL Draft, recorded three points (1g, 2a) in the Capitals’ 4-3 overtime win against the Chicago Blackhawks. More info on https://t.co/HecIC0ECg1 pic.twitter.com/74KN504nNu
— CapitalsPR (@CapitalsPR) September 17, 2019
Headline photo: NBC Sports Washington
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