The Washington Capitals selected Aliaksei Protas in the third round of the 2019 NHL Draft. He has moved quickly through their system ever since. The six-foot-six, 230-pound Belorussian made his NHL debut last season and went on to play in 32 more games after that.
At some stages of the campaign, Protas looked like the raw prospect that he is, but at other times he impressed with his stickhandling, heavy shot, and two-way game.
Protas does have one biggest limitation though: his skating ability. But now, it could be turning into a strength.
“I knew [skating] was one of my weaknesses I need to work on, so I spent pretty much whole summer working on it,” Protas said. “I spent a couple days like a camp (with skating coach). After that, I started to skate with my hometown team and I also was getting extra ice by myself. I was sending videos to my skating coach and he was explain me what I did good and what I did bad.”
Protas has played in both of the Capitals’ preseason games and has been a standout — both on the wing in the first game and at center in the second. His improved skating has been noticeable as has his strength down low defensively.
“Yeah, pretty much the same (as skating), I work whole summer in the gym,” Protas said. “Hard work pays off I hope.”
While open spots on the Capitals roster are sparse, Protas is trying to push his way onto the team possibly as a checking line winger or a top-six fill-in. While Protas’ talent is tantalizing, one thing working against him is that he is exempt from waivers, while older prospects like Joe Snively or Axel Jonsson-Fjallby are not. The Capitals may lean towards keeping Snively or AFJ on the NHL roster to not risk them being claimed by another team like Jonsson-Fjallby was last year by the Buffalo Sabres.
“Come in here and try and make some noise,” head coach Peter Laviolette said of players like Protas and Hendrix Lapierre. “Force a situation where you played so well you have to be kept or you have to move up the lineup or you have to get more minutes. Whatever it might be.”
So far, so good for Protas in that department.
Headline photo: Alan Dobbins/RMNB
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