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Orlov could be a triple threat on Caps' blue line

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Orlov could be a triple threat on Caps' blue line

Four years ago, at the age of 20, Dmitry Orlov broke into the NHL like an untamed thoroughbred. Blessed with the lethal combinations of speed, strength and a bomb of a shot, he played 60 games under Bruce Boudreau and Dale Hunter and looked like a blue liner with unlimited potential.

After two coaching changes, countless trips to the minors and a debilitating wrist injury that wiped out an entire season of his career, Orlov, now 24, is once again beginning to show the promise that was so apparent in his rookie season.

“It’s just fun to see him handle the puck and do some of the things he does because he’s a highly skilled player,” Caps defenseman Karl Alzner said. “He can be a game-breaker for us.

“If he gets the opportunity to get some power play minutes and be in the lineup more consistently and not get hurt he has a chance to get, easily 20 points, definitely 30 points if he has good bounces going his way. He’s a special player and he crushes guys, too, which is sometimes surprising because he’s not the biggest, most imposing guy. But he can hit.”

On Monday night, Orlov played in his first NHL game in 17 months and made the most of his team-high 21:36 of ice time. He blocked a team-high four shots, including a big blast by defenseman Ryan Murphy, and got off one shot, jumping into the slot for a good scoring chance.

“I like to play offense and if I see a chance to jump in the offense I will do it,” Orlov said. “If not I will stay (back). Our system is all about defense and offense.”

The long, deep scars on Orlov’s left wrist are a reminder of the fractures he suffered during the 2014 World Championships, when he represented Team Russia following the 2013-14 NHL season. A few months into his recoiver Orlov developed an infection and there were concerns that he may never regain the strength and mobility needed to play professional hockey.

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Orlov spent nearly all of last season practicing with the Capitals but never playing in a game, his only action coming in a brief rehab assignment with the Hershey Bears.

It is a year of his life Orlov clearly would like to forget and his play on the ice is helping him do that.

“I feel good,” he said. “I don’t feel anything when I play on the ice. I don’t worry about it. That was before and it’s good now. My shot is good and strong. I can battle.

“It’s nice to be back with everybody and practicing and working and getting ready for the season. It’s nice to be on the ice and playing again.”

As well as Orlov played on Monday night there are parts of his game worth addressing, Capitals coach Barry Trotz said on Tuesday.

“I thought his compete level and commitment level was good,” Trotz said. “You saw that on that one blocked shot. He was all-in on that. There were a few times in his game where there was a lot of highc risk, (high) reward. As you get to the higher level of play he’ll get burned a few times. But those are the game skill stuff we’re looking to get him into. I just need him to get more reps.”

Orlov played alongside Aaron Ness in his preseason debut, but he is expected to line up next to Nate Schmidt when the Caps play for real on Oct. 10 at home against the New Jersey Devils. The two played alongside each other in Hershey two seasons ago.

“We can both play offense and we can both play defense,” Orlov said. “So if he goes on the rush I can stay back and same thing with him.”

Trotz said he would like to see Orlov play in five of the Caps’ seven preseason games (he’s not in the lineup tonight against the Bruins) and would like to give him some of the responsibilities Mike Green had last season as the Caps’ fifth defenseman.

“Mike Green was very solid and a terrific guy and I don’t think you can ever replace the quality of things that Mike Green can bring,” Trotz said. “But Orlov brings some of them. And he brings some other characteristics that are different than Mike.”

Like, as Alzner pointed out, crushing people.

“We’ll see,” Orlov said with a chip-toothed smile. “I’m not thinking about my hip check. I just want to play and give us a chance to win.”

“Right now I would like to get more games to play and get my confidence back. It’s a new system for me so I need to know what I need to do. I know how I can play. I just want to get in game shape and get ready for the season.”

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Key Caps questions: Is Chandler Stephenson an NHL wing or center?

Key Caps questions: Is Chandler Stephenson an NHL wing or center?

The dog days of summer are officially here, but it's never too hot to talk some hockey.

Capitals correspondent JJ Regan is here to help you through the offseason doldrums as he discusses 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: Is Chandler Stephenson an NHL wing or center?

To answer this we first have to know what a center is. A center’s main focus in the middle of the ice. He is expected to cover that area at both ends and be almost a third defenseman when the puck moves into the defensive zone. Because they are expected to cover more of the ice, they need to be strong skaters. They also typically are the best setup player on a line as they set up the wingers. Obviously there are exceptions where centers can be strong goal scorers and wingers can be good setup players, but this is typically their function.

So a defensively responsible forward who is a strong skater? Stephenson certainly has that skillset.

But there is a difference between a good skater and a fast skater. Jakub Vrana, for example, is one of the fastest skaters on the team, but there's no denying he is a winger. Stephenson always seems to be better offensively when he’s ahead of the play rather than trailing it. His speed is most effective on the counter.

If you want to know what the Caps are thinking, consider this. There is a spot open at fourth line center and the team signed Travis Boyd, a center, to a one-way contract and signed winger/center Nic Dowd as a free agent. It certainly seems as if the team is looking at options other than Stephenson to fill that spot.

General manager Brian MacLellan essentially confirmed this when he spoke with reporters in July.

“I prefer Chandler on the wing,” he said. “He seems to be more effective there, but I’m not opposed to him playing center, too.”

Stephenson is an option at center if the Caps need it, but it’s clear the team sees him more as a wing.

Other key Caps questions:

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Key Caps questions: Will Michal Kempny continue to play like a top-four defenseman?

Key Caps questions: Will Michal Kempny continue to play like a top-four defenseman?

The dog days of summer are officially here, but it's never too hot to talk some hockey.

Capitals correspondent JJ Regan is here to help you through the offseason doldrums as he discusses 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: Will Michal Kempny continue to play like a top-four defenseman?

Michal Kempny proved to be an absolute steal at the trade deadline for the Caps who acquired him for just a third-round pick. Washington had an obvious need for a top-four defenseman and they took a chance on a little-known blue liner from the Chicago Blackhawks who struggled to stay in the lineup.

It worked.

Kempny quickly found chemistry with John Carlson and his addition bolstered the team's top-four on defense, turning it from a weakness to a strength in the playoffs.

But can he do it again?

Kempny has only two seasons of NHL experience. The most he’s played in a single season is 59 games which he did in 2015-16 while playing in the KHL. As well as he played in the playoffs, it is a bit of a gamble to simply rely on him to take a full-time top-four role going forward given the NHL sample size is still small.

But there is no reason to expect any drop-off in Kempny’s play.

Kempny thrived with the opportunity to take on a bigger role. Here’s a breakdown of his 2017-18 season:

  • October to Feb. 19 with the Chicago Blackhawks: 31 out of 59 games played, 15:19 of ice time per game, seven points (1 goal, 6 assists)
  • Feb. 19 through the regular season with the Caps: 22 out of 24 games played, 16:45 of ice time per game, three points (2 goals, 1 assist)
  • Playoffs: 24 out of 24 games played, 17:42 of ice time per game, five points (2 goals, 3 assists).

Kempny went from a healthy scratch to a top-four defenseman once Todd Reirden got his hands on him, and, in case you haven’t heard, Reirden isn’t going anywhere. With a full season to work on him, there’s good reason to be excited about what Kempny can do going forward. He knows it, too.

Despite getting interest from other teams prior to becoming a free agent, he chose instead to re-sign with Washington for four years with a $2.5 million cap hit. That’s a bargain price for a top-four defenseman, but after struggling to start his NHL career, Kempny decided not to mess with a good thing.

Kempny proved to be a dependable top-four defenseman for the Caps throughout the playoffs under the tutelage of Reirden. With Reirden now head coach, there’s no reason to think Kempny will not continue to thrive in Washington.

Other key Caps questions: