Aliaksei Protas will receive the biggest opportunity of his young career on Wednesday. Playing in his ninth career NHL game, the 20-year-old Belarussian will skate on the first line with Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov and will start on the team’s first power-play unit.
Protas spoke about the opportunity after the Capitals’ morning skate. The Capitals play the Montreal Canadiens at Capital One Arena on Thanksgiving Eve.
“I think it’s gonna be really fun, really great experience,” Protas said. “For me, when growing up, I watched these guys play. Now you’re playing with them. It’s really cool. I can’t wait to get going with these guys.”
Protas revealed that he watched Ovechkin and Kuznetsov win the Stanley Cup together in 2018 a year before he was drafted by the Capitals in the third round (91st overall) of the 2019 NHL Draft.
“I think you have to be focused every time when you play with those guys because they’re so experienced,” Protas said when asked what it would take to be successful playing with them. “They’re playmakers. They can make a play. You don’t want to wait for [the puck] but it can come so you have to be ready for it (at any time).”
Protas is coming off effective back-to-back games against the Seattle Kraken and San Jose Sharks. Protas received a career high 17:48 of ice time against Seattle, including 4:54 on the power play. Against the Sharks, Protas registered his first NHL point after receiving the secondary assist on a Conor Sheary goal.
He also almost scored his first career NHL goal before officials waved it off.
Protas thought he had his first NHL goal, but was waved off immediately
— JJ Regan (@JJReganNBCS) November 21, 2021
“If I was ref, I for sure would say it’s a goal,” Protas said laughing. “I mean, that’s up to them. Not up to me so…”
Capitals head coach Peter Laviolette admitted he was impressed by Protas’s recent play, which partially inspired him to move the six-foot-six forward from centering the fourth line to the wing on the first.
“He’s done a good job,” Capitals head coach Peter Laviolette said. “He’s been noticeable in the games with his work ethic, his speed, his size, his heaviness on his stick, and the battles. It is a good opportunity to step up and show what he can do in that role. I think he’s been a good player. You see us using him late in games, on the power play. He’s been a guy that we’ve gone to.”
Laviolette added that with five top-nine forwards out, the team was also “trying to make sure we can balance our lines as well” with the decision.
As for Protas, he will have no problems communicating with Ovechkin and Kuznetsov.
“We speak Russian,” Protas said. “In Belarus, we don’t speak Belarusian almost. We learn it, but we still speak Russian so it’s totally the same.”
During the interview, Protas reiterated multiple times that he is just going to try to play his game. He was asked what that means exactly.
“I will try to compete,” Protas said. “Just do my best on what the coaches tell me to do.”
Headline photo: Elizabeth Kong/RMNB
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