'Unbelieveable' Protas has Laviolette excited for the future originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
Part of the reason the Washington Capitals remain in third place in the Metropolitan division has been the development of their young talent.
Several rookies have been called up from AHL Hershey and dazzled in the pro ranks, which is even more impressive considering most of them were born in a year beginning with a two. One such rookie who has shown loads of promise this year in D.C. has been 21-year-old forward Aliaksei Protas. He’s appeared in 28 games this season as a Capital and has already made an impression on the coaching staff.
“I think both [Connor] McMichael and Protas just turned 21. They’re finally able to go have a beer,” Laviolette said to the Sports Junkies on 106.7 the Fan on Wednesday. “They’re so young and when you’re here for a while, it’s not about them being young players anymore. They’re in the lineup and you’re expected to be a contributor.”
Protas continued his stellar season in Tuesday’s 4-3 overtime win over the Jets, scoring the third goal on a pinball wraparound chance to give Washington a 3-2 lead. It was Protas’ third goal of the season but his contributions go well beyond the stat sheet. He plays hard on both sides of the puck, making plays in the defensive zone that allow the Caps to spring some offense, like he did here against the Canucks:
“Watching a guy like Protas at his age play the game that he did last night was unbelievable,” Laviolette said. “You just look down the road and you say, ‘When he’s 23 or when he’s 24 and he’s 15 pounds heavier, and he’s not a first-year player in the league and he’s just more powerful and more strong and more experience under his belt, what type of a player is he gonna be?’ He’s certainly doing a great job now. It makes you excited for the future too, on what the possibilities are for this kid, because he can skate, he works hard, he competes.”
Protas is gargantuan, standing at 6-foot-6 and 225 pounds, giving size to some of the Caps’ smaller lines. In Anthony Mantha's absence due to inury, Protas fills that need for size at forward.
When asked about Protas immediately after the Winnipeg game, Laviolette was eager to speak on the rookie. Even before a reporter could finish his question, the skipper said ‘awesome’ immediately after hearing Protas’ name.
“His work ethic, too. You saw him really striding out there and sometimes we forget how young he is. But you see him in game like tonight, and you’re like, ‘Oof, he could be something,” Laviolette said postgame. “He was impressive tonight…he used his work ethic, he used his skill, he used his size, and that made him very tough to stop.”
While the Capitals, and the entire NHL, continue to grapple with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic in addition to injuries, having rookies step in and exceed expectations relieves the burden off veterans. It’s certainly a good sign for Washington heading forward that rookies like Protas will continue to develop and become even more threatening.
“As he gets older, his skating will become stronger, the shot will become harder, the physicality will become more, and it’s a bright future for a young kid,” Laviolette said. “He played really well for us last night and he’s played well for us this year.”