Injuries continue to plague the Washington Capitals to kick off November, with Nic Dowd heading to the IR with a lower-body injury. In turn, the Capitals recalled Aliaksei Protas from the Hershey Bears to help fill in, and he could make his NHL debut against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday.
Washington first took Protas in the third round of the 2019 NHL Draft. He followed up with an impressive post-draft campaign wearing the “A” for the WHL’s Prince Albert Raiders, where he had 31 goals and 80 points in 58 games. In 2020-21, he got time in the KHL on loan with Dimano Minsk, where he had 10 goals and 18 points in 58 regular-season games before posting four points in five playoff games. After his KHL stint, he returned to North America to play with the Capitals’ AHL affiliate Hershey Bears, registering two goals and seven points in 16 games.
Prior to this season, he also played in the 2022 Olympic Qualifiers for Belarus, picking up an assist in three games. The 6-6, 225-pound center has a goal and four points in six games so far with Hershey, mainly skating on a line with Brett Leason and Axel Jonsson-Fjallby.
He is a talented pivot who can use his size to his advantage and win puck battles. Protas is also a talented playmaker and has good vision, and is coming off a solid Capitals training camp where he showed improvement in his skating. He had a decent showing in training camp and the preseason, dishing one goal in three games.
“I grew up a little bit like a player during the summer so now’s time the to show up,” Protas said.
Protas joins Leason (6-5) as the latest Capitals call up and another big body to fill in for Washington’s injured players as Dowd landed on the injured reserve on Monday.
Dowd originally got tangled up with Blake Coleman in the Capitals’ 4-3 loss to the Calgary Flames on Oct. 24 and was day-to-day with a lower-body injury. He returned for the tilt with Detroit but was re-injured on Friday prior to Washington’s showdown with the Arizona Coyotes after going down during the team’s morning skate. The soonest he can come off the IR on Nov. 4 against the Florida Panthers.
The Capitals’ injured players did make the trip to Tampa, including Dowd, Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie. Backstrom remains on the LTIR and is still skating on his own in full gear and progressing as he continues to rehab a hip injury. He’s eligible to return on Saturday against the Philadelphia Flyers, but it appears unlikely since he has yet to skate with the team in practice and participate in contact drills. Oshie is in a walking boot and is week-to-week after getting hurt blocking a shot against Detroit. They’ll get to bond off the ice with the team in Florida.
Washington ran with the same lines on Sunday prior to taking off to Tampa, with Connor McMichael in the top-6 and Hendrix Lapierre centering the fourth line. It’s unclear who could draw out if Protas does slot in on Monday.
Ultimately, it’ll be a good challenge for Washington and its youth. The team went undefeated in regulation through the month of October (5-0-3), with Lapierre netting his first NHL goal and McMichael dishing two assists. Now, it’s time for the kids to keep the momentum going.