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Capitals sign Aliaksei Protas to a five-year contract extension

Capitals center Aliaksei Protas signed a five-year extension to stay in Washington. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)
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The Washington Capitals signed winger Aliaksei Protas to a five-year contract extension Friday, locking up a young forward who has been among their most dependable players this season for the foreseeable future.

The new contract, which will kick in next season, is worth $16.875 million and carries an average annual value of $3.375 million. Protas, who turned 23 earlier this month, has set a career high with 18 points through 42 games and is one away from his career high of four goals.

“Aliaksei is a young and talented player, and we are excited to sign him to a long-term contract,” Capitals General Manager Brian MacLellan said in a statement. “He has taken great strides in his professional career, and we expect him to continue to improve and play a pivotal and impactful role on this team for many years to come.”

Protas was set to become a restricted free agent after this season and is now signed through 2028-29. He is one of only two Capitals — along with winger Tom Wilson, who who signed a seven-year extension in August — signed through that season.

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The one game Protas missed this campaign was the season opener, when he was sent down to Washington’s American Hockey League affiliate in Hershey, Pa., to create the salary cap space the Capitals needed to recall an extra goaltender. (Darcy Kuemper was unavailable after his son’s birth the night before.)

Protas, who didn’t require waivers to go to Hershey, was the straightforward, expendable option to be taken out for a night. Three months later, Protas has proven himself to be a key piece of Washington’s lineup. He has combined with Connor McMichael and Anthony Mantha to form one of the Capitals’ most consistent forward lines, and the improvements he has made to his skating over the last couple of seasons are evident.

His role has steadily increased throughout the year, going from playing limited minutes at five-on-five to a larger role in all situations, including on the penalty kill and, at times, on the power play.

“He’s been one of our best players overall this year,” Washington Coach Spencer Carbery said Jan. 1. “It didn’t start that way, and it’s well documented. He’s continued to get better, better and better. … He’s become, now, one of our top players.”