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.
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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