Dmitry Orlov doesn’t want to focus on the concussions that sidelined him last season. He’s healthy now. He doesn’t want to focus on the 60 games he played with the Capitals two years ago, either. He’s worried about sticking in the NHL now.
After being recalled earlier in the week, Orlov may get his chance to show he deserves a regular spot with the Capitals beginning Friday night when the team visits the Philadelphia Flyers.
“I know I can play NHL,” Orlov said. “I just need to keep going, keep myself and be strong. Should be good.”
Questions about Washington’s defensive depth, particularly on the left side, have been exacerbated by injuries to Jack Hillen (fractured tibial plateau) and John Erskine (upper body) who are both on long-term injured reserve. Orlov, a second-round draft pick in 2009 the team has long projected as a solid NHLer, could soothe some of those concerns if he can demonstrate consistency as an all-around defenseman.
Therein lies the challenge for Orlov, who is in the final year of his entry-level contract. Orlov has strong offensive instincts and can dish out a highlight-worthy hip check with the best of them, but Oates wants to see the 22-year-old demonstrate strong play in his own zone.
“What I told him when he got sent down to Hershey is he needs to improve in his own end,” Oates said. “I see the passing, I see the shot, I see the offensive reads — not a problem — that’s NHL caliber. He’s got a big body, he has to play his corner of the ice. That’s what he’s got to improve on and if he does he’s an NHL player.”
Orlov got off to a quick start in Hershey, after a bout of pink eye, recording one goal and five assists in four games. Oates also received reports from the Bears staff that Orlov had better overall performances in those games as well to go along with the offensive output.
Now it’s up to Orlov to show he’s capable of it at the NHL level so he can stay with the Capitals full time.
“I want to try my best and hope I stay here a long time, whole season,” Orlov said. “Not think about going [to Hershey] again, just stay here, get my confidence and play every game.”