Washington Capitals forward Aliaksei Protas is entering his third NHL season and looking to lock down a more permanent spot in the Caps lineup. The big Belorussian has been highly effective for long stretches in both his rookie and sophomore campaigns but has been unable to avoid return stints to the AHL’s Hershey Bears.
Protas revealed in an interview with Belorussian YouTube channel hcvarka on Tuesday that it’s a one-on-one conversation with Caps captain Alex Ovechkin that will help fuel him to achieve his goals moving forward. The Great Eight’s simple words of wisdom have instilled new confidence in the 22-year-old that Protas says he didn’t have before.
“There was a moment when the two of us stayed to talk,” Protas started and as translated via Google Translate. “We were talking about hockey. He said that with my character you have to be more brazen, bolder. It’s not that I’m shy, but now I understand that this, perhaps, prevented me from gaining a foothold. Listening to Ovechkin, you trust him, you believe his words. If you look at his first game in the NHL, Sasha in his first shift just killed a person on the boards. And, [then scored two goals]. And you understand that you really need to be bolder if you want to achieve your dream. There is nothing to be afraid of.”
The game Protas refers to came all the way back in October of 2005. In Ovechkin’s first shift in his NHL debut, he labeled Columbus defenseman Radoslav Suchy into the boards and broke one of the plexiglass partitions. Ovechkin would then put away his first two career goals in a span of four minutes and thirty seconds in the second period.
Protas was then asked by interviewer Dmitry Avramchyk if he’s ready to put Ovechkin’s words into action next season.
“Yes,” Protas replied. “I already understand that there is no other way, no other way. I understood that somewhere my psychology let me down in games. Could be bolder, bolder. But you need to see it in practice. In words, you can say a lot. It will be seen.”
Some of that newfound “bolder” play was on display when Protas was sent down to Hershey for the Bears’ ultimately successful run to the Calder Cup. Although his production slowed down towards the end of the postseason, Protas was making a legitimate case to be named MVP of the playoffs through the Conference Finals.
The sort of trust that Protas gave Ovechkin’s advice paid off as he finished just two points behind Joe Snively for the Bears’ postseason scoring lead. And, apparently that level of attention to Ovechkin’s words also extends to the general Capitals locker room.
“[Ovechkin] is the leader who as soon as he starts to talk, everyone just shuts their mouths and listens,” Protas said. “In the dressing room or even if you are at dinner somewhere. If he asks for a speech, all at once everyone just calms down and no one will say a word. Everyone is listening.
“A person is really a leader when if you are physically close to him, you feel his greatness. [He has] like some kind of energy, charisma. You really feel it and people are charged accordingly from it. In any case, you can learn something new from him, because of his experience.”
Protas played last season in almost solely a fourth-line, grinding role for the Caps under head coach Peter Laviolette. His 11:31 of average total ice time per game was the lowest among any of the team’s players that got into at least ten regular season games.
With a familiar face in Spencer Carbery now behind the bench, Ovechkin as a teammate supporting him, and a strong finish to his 2022-23 season in the AHL, Protas should look to stick around with the Caps for an entire year for the first time in his still young career.
At the other end of the spectrum, Ovechkin will enter his 19th career season in the NHL next year and the 14th anniversary of him being named Caps captain will come midway through the campaign. The Caps will be hoping he has similar advice to impart on his other teammates as they look to sneak back into the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
Headline photo: Alan Dobbins/RMNB
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