When training camp began, all eyes were on the stars like Alex Ovechkin, T.J. Oshie and Braden Holtby. The eyes of all the young defensemen, however, were on Brooks Orpik.
Orpik, who will turn 38 on Wednesday, now enters his 17th professional season and fifth with the Washington Capitals. Once a staple on the top four, Orpik has seen his minutes and his on-ice role decrease with age. His role off the ice, however, remains as large as ever.
“All defensemen can come to him, all players will come to him on any number of issues and he's there for them,” head coach Todd Reirden said. “But more often than not, some of the players don't go to him and they just watch him and try to replicate some of the things he's doing.”
The impact that has on the locker room was enough that the Caps sought to re-sign Orpik even after trading him in the offseason.
Orpik and his $5.5 million cap hit was sent to the Colorado Avalanche as part of the Philipp Grubauer trade. Once the Avalanche bought Orpik out of his contract, the Caps jumped at the chance to re-sign him.
Why re-sign a player you just traded and risk the ire of the NHL? Because the impact he has on the team is worth it, especially for the younger players.
This year’s blue line for Washington will feature youngsters like Christian Djoos and Madison Bowey, who will both be in their second NHL seasons. Training camp also features several other young defensemen vying for a possible call-up like Jonas Siegenthaler, Lucas Johansen and Connor Hobbs.
Giving those players a chance to work with Orpik and see what it takes to be a true professional at the NHL level is invaluable.
“He's a true pro,” Bowey said. “I think anytime you have a guy like that in your locker room to look up to, it makes everyone's job a lot easier. I know he's a guy that I've leaned on a lot in my young career so far and is a guy that I'll continue to lean on. The way his presence is on the room, it's definitely recognizable and something that we all noticed.”
For his part, Orpik was adamant in that he does not feel his role has changed at all and is not approaching this season any differently. He is preparing this season to be a player, not a mentor.
But then again, he shouldn’t change anything because it is in how he trains, how he prepares, how he carries himself that he has become a role model.
“I remember when I was a younger guy, [Darius Kasparaitis] was there my first year,” Orpik said. “You catch yourself kind of just staring at these guys, watching these guys. I'm not naive, I know guys are constantly watching you.”
If he is going to be a mentor, he is determined to make sure it is going to be by example.
Said Reirden, “He's a great role model for how to be a true professional.”
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