“Few things can help an individual more than to place responsibility on him, and to let him know that you trust him.”
-- Booker T. Washington
It is an example of the turnover on the Washington Capitals blue line that at the age of 26 and having played in more than 60 games in a season twice in five seasons with the club, Dmitry Orlov is now second among current Capitals defensemen in games played with the franchise (283). Orlov, who appeared in every regular season game of the past two seasons, has developed into a productive offensive player from the blue line. Orlov (14-48-62, plus-38, over the past two seasons), along with John Carlson (17-59-76, plus-23) and Matt Niskaken (10-61-71, plus-30), provides a trio of reliable offensive contributors on defense.
Orlov also provides a physical dimension in his play that does not get much attention outside of the occasional highlight-worthy hip check…
Over the past two seasons Orlov has 243 credited hits, trailing only Niskanen (304) and Brooks Orpik (306) among Capitals defensemen.
If there was a cloud over his 2016-2017 season, it was in the way his production slipped a bit in the last half of the regular season. After going 4-22-26, plus-23 over his first 51 games, Orlov was 2-5-7, plus-7 over his last 31 games. Nevertheless, he was a top-three defensemen for the club in a number of categories:
- Games :82 (T-1st)
- Goals: 6 (2nd)
- Assists: 27 (3rd)
- Points: 33 (3rd)
- Plus-Minus: plus-30 (2nd)
- Penalty Minutes: 51 (1st)
- Shots on Goal: 125 (3rd)
There are odd facts (below), and there is what might be an odd reflection of his youth and picking his spots in games. The grittier arts of defense are hitting and blocking shots, and for Orlov the results did not exactly align in terms of outcomes. In 16 games in which he recorded three or more hits, the Caps were 8-6-2. Meanwhile, in 23 games in which he blocked more than one shot, the Caps were 17-5-1.
Odd Orlov Fact… Dmitry Orlov is the third defenseman in Capitals history to appear in at least 250 games by the age of 25, score at least 20 goals, record at least 75 points, and post a plus-minus of plus-40 or better. The others are Mike Green and Scott Stevens.
Bonus Odd Orlov Fact… All six of Orlov’s goals last season were scored at home, and all of them were recorded in wins, and all of them were against Eastern Conference opponents.
Dmitry Orlov was the 20th defenseman selected in the 2009 entry draft (second round/55th overall). He has outperformed his draft position in his statistical rankings in his class of defensemen:
- Games: 283 (10th)
- Goals: 20 (10th)
- Assists: 73 (9th)
- Points: 93 (9th)
- Plus-Minus: plus-43 (2nd)
- Penalty Minutes: 114 (13th)
And, even though he has averaged less than 18 minutes per game in his career to date, his per-82 game scoring line of 6-21-27, plus-12, is an impressive scoring line for a defenseman who has been a regular for only two seasons.
Two seasons, 24 postseason games…no goals. He attempted 57 shots in the 2017 postseason last spring without finding the back of the net. Only six of 75 defensemen with no goals in last year’s playoffs did so with more shots on goal than Orlov (21). You could call this an odd fact, but Orlov has one point, an assist, in 13 career home playoff games. Then there is the matter of ice time in the postseason. The Caps are 5-0 when he skated fewer than 13 minutes, 8-11 in games in which he skated more than 13 minutes.
Potential Milestones to Reach in 2017-2018...
Potential Milestones to Reach in 2017-2018...
- 300 games (currently has 283)
- 100 assists (currently has 73)
- 100 points (currently has 93)
The Big Question… Is Dmitry Orlov ready to move up into a more responsible role -- a top pair role -- on a permanent basis?
Unless Caps General Manager Brian MacLellan pulls a rabbit out of his hat and makes a trade for a defenseman, Dmitry Orlov is going to be asked to do more for the Caps this season on a regular basis. Orlov is already getting a bigger dose of responsibility as a “veteran” skating along with one of the young defensemen the Caps have brought into training camp. There are other responsibilities that might start showing up on a more regular basis. For example, last season Karl Alzner averaged 3:03 per game in shorthanded ice time. Orlov averaged 14 seconds per game. One might expect that to change.
One thing unlikely to change much is Orlov’s even strength ice time, since his 18:09 per game average last season led the team. Orlov has demonstrated an ability to contribute on the power play. He was 1-5-6 in 93 minutes of power play ice time last season. However, with Carlson and Niskanen still with the club (they were first and second, respectively, in total power play ice time last season), he would seem unlikely to get much more, if any more ice time on the power play.
In the end…
Last season, with Orlov and Nate Schmidt being young, relatively inexperienced and untested defensmen, the Caps felt the need to go out and secure a bigger, more proven producer for the blue line in Kevin Shattenkirk as part of its “all-in” strategy. Schmidt is gone, as is Shattenkirk, and Orlov will be working without a net. In somewhat limited situations, Orlov had demonstrated a certain level of responsibility in terms of his possession numbers. Last season Orlov was ninth among all NHL defensemen playing at least 1,000 5-on-5 minutes in Corsi-for (54.32 percent; numbers from naturalstattrick.com).
Departures create opportunities for prospects. They also expand the range of responsibilities for players entering the prime years of their careers. When combined with the investment that the Capitals made in Orlov this past summer – a new six-year/$30.6 million contract for the would-be restricted free agent – he will be asked to take on a broader set of responsibilities. It is the natural progress of a player of whom Barry Trotz said when he arrived in Washington, “we talked about a young player being patient, allowing him to grow, allowing him to make mistakes, allowing him to get to the next level. And with a good plan and his work ethic and him buying into it, he’s turned himself into a pretty good player, a good piece for us, and he’s getting paid for it.” Orlov is now a more well-rounded player who has grown into the next level and in whom the Caps are placing a good deal of trust this season.
Projection: 82 games, 9-29-38, plus-24
Photo: Patrick Smith/Getty Images North America