The dog days of summer are officially here, but it's never too hot to talk some hockey.
Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir and Capitals correspondent JJ Regan are here to help you through the offseason doldrums. They will discuss key questions facing the Caps for the upcoming season as Washington prepares to defend its title for the first time in franchise history.
Today's question: Can Dmitry Orlov eclipse 40 points?
Tarik: Orlov’s goal every year should be producing 40 or more points.
Two seasons ago, the Russian defenseman established a career-high for assists with 27 and ended up with 33 points. Last season, Orlov scored a career-best 10 goals and finished with 31 points.
Orlov’s goal output, in fact, made him just the fifth Caps defenseman since 2000 to hit double digits, joining Mike Green, Sergei Gonchar, John Carlson and Dennis Wideman.
What does that tell us? It tells us that 12 goals and 28 assists in 2018-19 shouldn’t be too much of a stretch for Orly.
The area where I could see Orlov making the biggest jump next season is in the goal department.
He possesses a blisteringly hard shot. And, last winter, two things became apparent to me: No. 1, Orlov had started shooting to score rather than just put the puck on net and No. 2, he was beginning to do a much better job of walking the blue line, finding open lanes and delivering that big shot on net with more accuracy. Consider: he mustered 125 shots on goal each of the last two seasons but last season saw his goal total jump from six to double digits for the first time.
At 27-years old, Orlov still has a lot of runway in front of him. I think he’s going to continue to improve at both ends of the rink, particularly in the D-zone, where NHL defensemen often hit their prime around his age.
I’m a little less bullish on Orlov’s offensive upside for one reason: I think he’d need to skate on the first unit power play to really increase his goal and assist totals. And the point job, of course, is locked down by Carlson, and rightfully so.
The bottom line: I could see Orlov, who hasn’t missed a game in three-plus seasons, hitting 40 points. But I’m having a tough time seeing him amass much more without a bigger role on the PP. Last season, for example, Carlson racked up 32 points with the man advantage, while Orlov had four.
JJ: Getting more time on the power play would certainly help Orlov, but I believe the issue that holds him back the most is his offensive instincts.
Last season, Orlov produced 10 goals and 31 points. His partner, Matt Niskanen, produced seven goals and 29 points. I think it's fair to label Niskanen as a two-way defenseman, but when you compare the skillsets of both players, there is no reason why Orlov and Niskanen's offensive point totals should be that close. Orlov's offensive ceiling is much, much higher.
So why did they produce at essentially the same rate?
Orlov has a great, great shot and is an incredibly skilled stick-handler, but he lacks the same offensive instincts of the opportunistic Niskanen who always seems to know the best time to creep up into the offensive zone. You just don't see Orlov score many goals like this.
Orlov does score some pretty amazing, highlight reel goals, but if he is not scoring off a great individual play or with his blistering shot, he's not scoring. He is not as effective at reading play in the offensive zone.
Though he does not play on the first unit of the power play, Orlov still got over 95 minutes of power play time last season and he registered a measly four assists. Even if you're not playing with the top unit, you are still getting time on a man-advantage. There's still more room to work with and a player with Orlov's skill should be able to muster more than four points.. But, for a player playing the blue line on the power play, Orlov is expected to be one of the quarterbacks of that unit and he just does not see the game the same way Niskanen or John Carlson do.
Another issue facing Orlov is his role. He and Niskanen used to be the Caps' top defensive pairing in almost every situation. The addition of Michal Kempny gives Washington a bonafide top-four. Orlov and Niskanen are the go-to in shutdown situations, but if you need offense, your first choice is going to be putting Carlson's pairing on the ice, not Orlov.
At 27, Orlov is really entering the prime of his career. If he hopes to take the next step offensively, it's now or never. He has tallied 29, 33 and 31 points in the past three season, so he is hovering around the same level of production. His skill set indicates he should be producing more. It's certainly possible he takes the next step, but I see 35 as much more realistic than 40.
Other key Caps questions:
- How will the Caps look different under Todd Reirden?
- Will the Caps suffer a Stanley Cup hangover?
- Can Alex Ovechkin still challenge for another Rocket Richard Trophy?
- Has Evgeny Kuznetsov made the jump from really good player to superstar?
- Will John Carlson repeat his career year after signing a long-term contract?
- Which Braden Holtby will we see this season?
- Will Tom Wilson make more headlines this season for his offense or physical play?
- Can Pheonix Copley handle the backup role?
- Can Jakub Vrana consistently play like a top-six forward?
- Will Devante Smith-Pelly's postseason performance translate into more production this season?
- How much will the loss of Jay Beagle impact the Caps?