Protas loaned to Dinamo Minsk for start of 2020-21 season

Daily Herald File Photo Prince Albert Raiders forward Aliaksei Protas controls the puck during a game against the Edmonton Oil Kings in January.

With the status of the upcoming Western Hockey League season still up in the air, Prince Albert Raiders star forward Aliaksei Protas will staying in Belarus for the time being.

The Washington Capitals, who hold Protas’ NHL rights, announced on Friday that the 19-year-old centre has been loaned out to Dinamo Minsk of the KHL for the start of the 2020-21 campaign.

Protas is expected to return to North America for the Capitals’ training camp or when the WHL season begins, which is currently slated for Dec. 4.

“Once (Raiders teammate) Ilya (Usau) had gotten his tryout deal with Minsk and we arranged the loan agreement for that, it always sat in the back of our head that this could be a possibility,” Raiders general manager Curtis Hunt said. “However, with an Oct. 2 start date (that the WHL had originally announced in June) being set, that scenario was something that we hadn’t discussed with Washington.

“Once the OHL (Ontario Hockey League) made their decision to start in December and the WHL followed suit, we worked with Washington on the release. We still have his rights so he will either play for us or the Capitals if he were to make their roster of training camp. I think it’s a real good thing for Alex as he’ll get a chance to play in his hometown before coming back to North America.”

A third round pick by the Capitals in 2019, Protas led the Raiders in scoring during his second season with the club as he posted 80 points in 58 games.

He will be joining a Dinamo Minsk side had a 14-37-11 record this past season and last made the KHL playoffs in 2017.

Protas and Usau are among several European CHL players who will be staying at home for the time being as the start of the 2020-21 campaign has been delayed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“You have to remember that these are still young players that are looking to develop their game,” Hunt said. “For many of them, it’s better to find a place where they are a 22-minute player every night instead of being a four-minute player.

“This does allow some of those KHL teams to take a long look at these kids and it provides another option for them when they are ready to turn pro.”

Although the start of the WHL season has now been delayed until December, Hunt and the rest of the Raiders hockey operations department are still keeping busy.

“Curt Brownlee (the Raiders’ director of player personnel) talks a lot with our prospects, (head coach) Marc Habscheid and the coaching staff are in contact with the players and I have been talking a lot of with the parents and keeping them informed with what’s going on,” Hunt said. “There’s a lot of anxiety and the kids have been working hard, so we’re just making sure that we are always available to answer any questions.

“It’s all about safety right now and we’re watching the pro leagues to see how they are managing things. We all want to get back to playing as soon as we can, but we want to make sure that it’s done safely.”