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Capitals want to see all-around game from Dmitry Orlov

(Nick Wass/AP)

This is a critical season for Dmitry Orlov. In the final year of his entry-level deal, the defensive prospect needs to find a way to get back to the NHL and stay there. With an abundance of blueliners in training camp, though, he may have to wait for that opportunity.

“I just try to play my game and we’ll see if coaches see me in the lineup,” Orlov said recently. “It’s hard to say right now, team play last year and I wasn’t there. Right now I need a good preseason games, show what I can do and stay positive.”

Two years ago, the 2009 second-rounder looked like he had made the full-time jump to the NHL. Orlov played 60 games during Dale Hunter’s tenure as coach and even though he didn’t see time in the postseason that year, he appeared ready to remain in Washington.

The NHL lockout delayed those plans, like they did for so many, and while playing for Hershey in the fall of 2012 Orlov suffered two concussions. The second, which occurred in the AHL Showcase at Verizon Center in December 2012, sidelined him for three months.

What was supposed to be the season that saw Orlov solidify himself in the NHL turned into a brief five-game appearance with the Capitals, who were rolling in the hunt for the postseason by the time he was healthy.

“It wasn’t really that he was lacking anything, he got hurt early on, missed a lot of time and came back and just wasn’t where he needed to be. He just wasn’t on top of his game,” General Manager George McPhee said at the start of training camp. “We were trying to win games and we didn’t have time to experiment. Other people were playing well enough on the blueline that we kept it the way it was. He’s healthy now, and let’s see what he can do for us.”

Coach Adam Oates admits that he didn’t have the opportunity to really evaluate or get to know Orlov last year because of the injuries. The question now is, after that tough year can the 22-year-old push his way back on to the NHL roster?

Orlov has already overcome the first hurdle – he’s finally healthy. “No problems in my head,” said Orlov, who is growing more comfortable with English. He was able to work through his full offseason training program and is eager to put last year’s struggles behind him.

But all seven defensemen who played at least 25 games for the Capitals last season – John Carlson, Karl Alzner, Mike Green, John Erskine, Jack Hillen, Steve Oleksy and Tomas Kundratek – have returned. So unless he comes on strong to close out the preseason Orlov, who does not need to pass through waivers in order to be assigned to the AHL, may have to wait for a call up to crack the roster.

Assistant coach Calle Johansson likes the young defenseman. He sees a great skater, with a good shot, good hands and deceiving strength for someone who’s only 5-11. But he wants Orlov, who has always prided himself on being an offensive defensemen to focus on balancing his game.

“What I really want to see from Dmitry is an all-around game,” Johansson said. “He looks at himself as an offensive defenseman. I look at him as an all-around defenseman. For defensemen, in my book, you take care of your own end first. That’s what he has to do and he’s capable of it. He’s a big man. He’s not tall, but he’s thick. He’s got to realize that it has to be tough to get around him and get by him to get to our net and he’ll be fine. I have no doubts in my mind about him.”

Orlov understands the importance of playing a more well-rounded game. He’s glad that the Capitals have a system that encourages defensemen get involved in the play offensively, but he’s willing to show he’s more than a booming shot from the point.

“I need to play on defense how I play offense. I need to play good there,” Orlov said. “If I have [offensive] chance then of course I will try, that’s my style, I don’t want to change that but I know I still need to play defense.”