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Why the Capitals keep recalling, but don’t play, Dmitry Orlov

(Nick Wass/AP)

The back-and-forth case of Dmitry Orlov continued Tuesday afternoon when the Capitals announced they had assigned the defensive prospect back to the Hershey Bears just a day after he was summoned to Washington.

It marked the fifth time in the past month Orlov has been recalled and subsequently returned to the AHL without appearing in an NHL game, in what has been a peculiar trend given that the Capitals have suffered injuries and relied on inexperienced players on the blue line over that same span.

The routine indicates the Capitals aren’t inclined to play Orlov, 22, but rather are simply trying to hang on to his rights.

According to a league source with knowledge of the situation, Orlov’s contract contains a clause that would allow him to leave for Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League on Jan. 1, 2014 if he has not been on the active NHL roster for a total of 30 days this season.

Based on the various stints he has had with the Capitals, Orlov has spent 19 days on the active roster so far.

Capitals General Manager George McPhee did not immediately respond to a call seeking comment.

Orlov, a 2009 second-round pick who is in the final year of his entry-level contract, has long been projected as a possible top-four defensemen. He appeared in 60 games with the Capitals under Dale Hunter in the 2010-11 season, but then suffered a pair of concussions last year during the NHL lockout. Orlov played in five games after recovering but wasn’t quite back to form, and the Capitals, pushing for a playoff spot, didn’t want to tinker with the lineup.

But this season, Orlov is healthy and, by all accounts, playing well in Hershey, where he has three goals and six assists in 10 games. When left-handed defensemen Jack Hillen (fractured tibial plateau) was placed on long-term injured reserve, it appeared to create an opening, but Orlov was passed over because he had pink eye and the Capitals turned to Alex Urbom and Nate Schmidt.

When John Erskine (knee) went on LTIR in late October Orlov was recalled for the first time, but he has yet to receive an opportunity to play and being the resident yo-yo is taking a toll on the young defenseman.

“It’s becoming increasingly hard for Dmitry to continue with this shuttle without any hope of playing a game,” Orlov’s agent, Mark Gandler, said. “The coach can’t see him in the lineup. He’s been around. Everybody knows what he can bring, there’s no question marks here. I think that the team can get something for him at this point and move forward. I think that would be the best solution for everybody.”

As for whether the defenseman would leave North America for the KHL, Gandler said Orlov’s preference has always been to play in the NHL.

“Dmitry wants to play in the NHL. That’s what he wants to do. If there’s an opportunity, he’ll take it,” Gandler said. “If there’s no opportunity, he will have no choice but to sign with the KHL.”