Coach Bruce Boudreau quickly tempered any assumptions Thursday that Dmitry Orlov’s continued stay in Washington signaled anything in regard to his chances of starting the year with the Capitals. All it meant, Boudreau said, was that Orlov will play in at least one of the remaining two preseason games.

That doesn’t change the fact that the 20-year-old blueliner remains with the Capitals and is continuing to turn heads, though.

Orlov has appeared in three preseason games and appears to grow in confidence with each outing. Against Nashville on Wednesday, he played 16 minutes 7 seconds, finishing with a plus-1 rating and was a bright spot in an overall poor exhibition outing by Washington.

“I think he has a lot of work to do, like a lot of young guys do, but we saw something last night,” Boudreau said. “He’s got god given talent that you can’t invent. We thought he played a lot more secure with the puck and safe against a team that’s one of the better teams that we think you’re going to see in the NHL.”

Boudreau went on to praise numerous aspects of Orlov’s game, from his puck-handling, to his vision, ability to get shots through traffic from the point and so on. Orlov’s ever-improving performances over the past few weeks of training camp are why, even at his young age, it seems possible the Capitals could elect to keep him in the fold with the start of the regular season eight days away.

Defenseman John Erskine continues to rehabilitate his surgically repaired shoulder but is still a “couple weeks” away from being cleared for contact, which means he won’t be ready when Washington opens the 2011-12 campaign against the Carolina Hurricanes on Oct. 8. Earlier in the week, Boudreau said: “If John’s not ready to go at the start, somebody’s got to stick around. So we’ll see who it is.”

To be certain, there is nothing to prevent Washington from recalling other more-seasoned AHL defensemen from Hershey in spot duty if necessary at the start of the year even though they have all been reassigned to the Bears at this point.

With the possibility of Orlov starting the year with the Capitals comes the question of whether he would develop best while playing significant minutes in Hershey — as defensemen Mike Green, Jeff Schultz, John Carlson and Karl Alzner all did — or spend time learning in the NHL where ice time is limited.

“That’s a decision you definitely have to talk to [General Manager] George [McPhee] about,” Boudreau said. “You’ve got two trains of thought: Is it better for him to play or is it better for him to practice and learn? It’s something that I’m sure will be discussed.”

For all of Orlov’s impressive qualities there are plenty of reminders that this will be his first full season in North America and that he hasn’t quite learned how to reign in his high-risk, high-reward style of play.

There are a few players in the Capitals’ lineup, though, who know something about trying to balance their offensive tendencies with their defensive job description, and Orlov has impressed them as well. Learning when to take the risk and maximize the reward is something that only experience can teach Orlov, according to Dennis Wideman.

“I played a few games with him now and I think he’s highly skilled,” Wideman said. “Obviously figuring out when to hold on to the puck and when to get rid of it is going to come as he gets more experience and plays more, but I think his overall skill set is really good.

“When you get beat enough over the years you slowly start to learn when to go, but it takes being in those plays, seeing the plays and being in all those situations to learn it,” Wideman continued. “It takes a while, your first couple of years there’s going to be times when you push it and you shouldn’t but that comes with playing games.”