A pair of linemates are now prospects of the Washington Capitals as Brett Leason and Aliaksei Protas were picked in the second and third rounds at the NHL Draft Saturday.
Leason, who was passed over the last two years, was the 56th overall pick in Vancouver while Protas went 91st overall after the Capitals moved up the draft board to take a pick that belonged to the New Jersey Devils, who had acquired it from the San Jose Sharks earlier in the day.
“We had them close together on our draft board,” Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan said during a media scrum.
“When we had our first round pick we had a chance to get (London Knights forward) Connor McMichael or Leason, but we didn’t think we’d end up with both of them. We didn’t think Protas was going to be around when we picked again, so we moved up to draft him.”
The Capitals are the first team to pick multiple Raiders since 2001, when the Florida Panthers took Greg Watson, Grant McNeill and Kyle Bruce.
It was a big morning for Leason, as the 20-year-old from Calgary received the E.J. McGuire Award of Excellence that is given to the candidate who best exemplifies the commitment to excellence through strength of character, competitiveness and athleticism.
“That was a very special moment,” Leason said. “To be even considered for that award and to then receive it was an amazing honour and something that I’ll remember for a long time.
“This whole day is something I’ll really cherish. After being passed over the last two years, that gave me some extra motivation to keep pushing towards my goals. Hockey is the sport that I love and I want continue playing it.”
Although he can return to the Western Hockey League for his overage campaign, MacLellan said after the draft that Leason will be starting next season in the American Hockey League with the Hershey Bears.
The 18-year-old Protas, who became the first player in the WHL to have back-to-back playoff hat tricks since 1996 during the Eastern Conference final against the Edmonton Oil Kings, was the second Belarusian to be picked on Saturday as Flint Firebirds blueliner Vladislav Kolyachonok was taken by the Florida Panthers with the 52nd pick.
“It was an unbelievable feeling to hear my name called,” Protas said. “My legs were shaking.
“I’m so happy to be a part of the Capitals and to not only be with Brett, but with all of the other guys that were drafted.”
Leason and Protas were the first Raiders players to be taken by the Capitals since Ross Lupaschuk was picked in the second round of the 1999 NHL Draft.
This also marks the first time that the Raiders have had two players picked at the NHL Draft Brendan Guhle and Matteo Gennaro were selected in 2015.
Okotoks Oilers forward and future Minnesota Duluth-Bulldogs player Quinn Olson, a sixth round pick by the Raiders in the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft that his rights to dealt to the Calgary Hitmen in January, was picked by the Boston Bruins in the third round with the 92nd pick.
Although they weren’t picked on Saturday, Raiders blueliners Brayden Pachal and Sergei Sapego will both be headed to development camps this week.
Pachal will be taking part at the Vegas Golden Knights camp while Sapego will join graduating netminder Ian Scott at the Toronto Maple Leafs camp.
Also taking part in development camps are graduating forwards Noah Gregor (San Jose Sharks) and Parker Kelly (Ottawa Senators), along with returning forward Cole Fonstad (Montreal Canadiens).
Former Prince Albert Mintos forward Logan Barlage, who is now a member of the Lethbridge Hurricanes, will be going to the Colorado Avalanche’s development camp after he went undrafted.
It was a banner weekend for the WHL as they had the most drafted players from any league with 28, including seven in the first round.
Saskatoon Blades forward Kirby Dach was the third overall selection by the Chicago Blackhawks, with Bowen Byram of the Vancouver Giants being the first blueliner off the board a pick later.
The other first round picks were Hurricanes forward Dylan Cozens (#7 – Buffalo Sabres), Winnipeg Ice forward Peyton Krebs (#17 – Vegas Golden Knights), Kelowna Rockets blueliner Lassi Thomson (#19 – Senators), Rockets forward Nolan Foote (#27 – Tampa Bay Lightning) and Moose Jaw Warriors forward Brayden Tracey (#29 – Anaheim Ducks).
Yorkton’s Kaedan Korczak, who is a defenceman for the Rockets, was the highest Saskatchewan product to be drafted as he was the 41st overall pick by the Golden Knights.
The other players from the province to be selected were Saskatoon forward Adam Beckman of the Spokane Chiefs (#75 – Minnesota Wild), Regina forward Carson Focht of the Hitmen (#133 – Vancouver Canucks), Regina forward Harrison Blaisdell of the Chilliwack Chiefs (#134 – Winnipeg Jets), Moose Jaw forward Reece Newkirk of the Portland Winterhawks (#147 – New York Islanders), Meadow Lake goaltender Roddy Ross of the Seattle Thunderbirds (#169 – Philadelphia Flyers) and Wilcox defenceman Quinn Schmiemann of the Kamloops Blazers (#182 – Lightning).