Dmitry Orlov didn’t have to answer the question; his smile gave it away.
It’s been nearly four months since Orlov laid to rest the most frustrating season of his career and he is now ready to lay to rest the persistent questions over the surgically repaired wrist that stole his 2014-15 season.
“I feel good,” he said with a smile. “I’m ready to go. My wrist is fine right now. I can shoot, I can do everything. I feel good, I feel fine and I’m ready to play. I can’t wait for the season to start.”
Orlov, 24, had just finished another practice session at Kettler Capitals Iceplex, where teammates backed up his assertion that he is ready to fill Mike Green’s skates as the Caps’ No. 5 blue liner alongside Nate Schmidt.
His shot, they said, is a dead giveaway.
“I think he looks great,” Caps defenseman John Carlson said. “He’s been here pretty much all summer with me and he looks better than ever. He went home (to Russia) for a little bit and by the time he came back it was crazy different. He’s skating great, he handles the puck just as great as he ever used to and his shot is definitely there again.”
Orlov said that at the conclusion of last season, one in which he practiced but never played a game for the Capitals, he took three weeks off to let his body rest. His mind needed a break as well.
“It was tough to see him last year,” said fellow Russian Stan Galiev, who has been friends with Orlov since he was drafted by the Caps in 2010, one year after Orlov was selected in the second round.
“He was down so much mentally. I’ve known him for five years and he’s probably the hardest-working player I’ve ever seen in the gym. I think he’ll have a great regular season.”
Orlov had just completed his third season with the Capitals when he fractured his wrist while playing for Russia during the 2014 World Championships . He underwent reconstructive surgery but his recovery was slowed by an infection and there was fear he might never regain the strength and flexibility needed to play in the NHL again.
At one point last season Capitals coach Barry Trotz wondered if Orlov’s playing career was in jeopardy.
“I understand it’s hard not playing for a whole season,” Orlov said. “I tried to be positive all the time. Of course, I had some negative days. But I try to forget that and not think about it.
“Everybody has injuries. My injury was longer than expected, but I just need to be focused on this season and every game be part of the team and help the team make the playoffs and win the Cup.”
Orlov began skating in Russia in early July, working out with Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, who wanted someone to fire pucks at him. Orlov was happy to oblige.
“Bobrovsky said my shot is good,” Orlov said.
Although he’s a completely different player than Green, Orlov has the potential to be a dynamic presence on the Caps’ blue line. In his first three NHL seasons he carved a reputation as a big open-ice hitter who could move the puck as well as he could shoot it.
Orlov, who broke into the NHL as a defense partner for Green, said he’s ready to take on the challenge of a full-time role.
“Mike was a big part of the Capitals team,” Orlov said of Green. “He gave the team everything when he played here and he’ll play good in Detroit. He’s gone and somebody should play good, whether it’s me or Nate or (Taylor) Chorney.”
Orlov and Schmidt played together in Hershey and Orlov said each knows what the other brings to the table.
“We understand how we need to play,” he said. “He’s a good skater and he can make a good pass and join the rush. He’s easy to play with for me.”
This could be a make-or-break season for Orlov. He is entering the final year of his contract with the Capitals, which included a feud with former coach Adam Oates, who was reluctant to play him at the start of the 2013-14 season.
“Honestly, I’m not thinking about this being my contract year or not,” he said. “I just want to play, try to play better every game and try to get my confidence back. Just play and enjoy.”
If Orlov can reclaim his zest for the game, Galiev and former national teammate Evgeny Kuznetsov say the sky is the limit for him.
“He looks very hungry,” Kuznetsov said. “Like a tiger. I’m very happy for him.”
“I’ve seen his shot several times and I would say he’s back,” Galiev said. “He loves hockey so much and he’s tired of practicing. He wants to play. He hits people and he hits them hard. I can’t wait to see him in a game.”
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