Sunday, September 23, 2018

Washington Capitals 2018-2019 Previews -- Defensemen: Dmitry Orlov

Dmitry Orlov

“If you tell me that you desire a fig, I answer you that there must be time. Let it first blossom, then bear fruit, then ripen.”
-- Epictetus

By the time Dmitry Orlov was taken by the Washington Capitals in the second round with the 55th overall pick, 19 defensemen had already been selected.  Fast forward nine years, and Orlov has played in more games (365) than 13 of those 19 defensemen, scored more goals (30) than 13 of them, has more points (124) than 14 of them, and has a better plus-minus (plus-53) than 17 of them.

Orlov established himself in 2017-2018 as a defenseman capable of getting top pair minutes, teaming with Matt Niskanen to make a formidable top pair for the Caps.  It was a huge step up in terms of ice time for the sixth-year defenseman in 2017-2018.  His average of 23:08 per game was second on the club.  A lot of that increase, (3:32 per game more than his previous best, in 2013-2014) was a product of his getting 1:59 per game killing penalties. 1:26 more than his previous high average in his rookie season in 2011-2012.  His even strength ice time (19:59 per game) also rose by almost a full minute from his previous high (19:00 in 2013-2014).

His taking on a heavy workload carried over into the postseason, where he averaged 24:12 a game, almost three minutes more than his next highest average (21:25 in 2017).  He recorded his first two career playoff goals and recorded twice as many points (2-6-8) in 24 postseason games than he did in 24 career postseason games before this season (0-4-4).

Odd Orlov Fact…

2016-2017…2017-2018. 82 games…82 games.  125 shots…125 shots.  4.8 percent shooting percentage…8.0 percent shooting percentage.  That is why Orlov had six goals in 2016-2017 and 10 goals in 2017-2018.

Bonus Odd Orlov Fact…

Both of Dmitry Orlov’s postseason goals were “first goals,” one opening the scoring in the Caps’ 6-3 series-clinching win over the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round, and the other being the game’s first goal in the Caps’ 4-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference final.

Double Bonus Odd Orlov Fact…

Dmitry Orlov was thaken with the 55th overall pick in the 2009 entry draft.  That has been an especially popular overall draft slot for the Caps over the years, six players having been drafted in that slot in team history.  Orlov is one of five players taken with that pick to play in the NHL and one of three to dress for more than 350 NHL games (Bengt Gustafsson and Torrie Robertson being the others).

Fearless’ Take…

Dmitry Orlov was the only Capitals defenseman with more credited takeaways (54) than giveaways (51) last season.  He was second in hits (128), third in blocked shots (116), second in shots on goal (125), second in shot attempts for percentage at 5-on-5 (49.54).  He was not just contributing at the offensive end of the ice, and he managed to do it all while coloring inside the lines.  He took only 11 penalties in 82 games.  Only 19 of 86 defensemen in the league appearing in at least 75 games took fewer penalties.

Cheerless’ Take…

If Dmitry Orlov could have done the damage to other divisions that he did to the Metro, what a season it would have been.  He had six goals on 45 shots (13.3 percent) in 28 games (0.21 goals per game).  Against everyone else he had four goals on 80 shots (5.0 percent) in 54 games (0.11 goals per game).  And big workloads were not always a good thing.  In 27 games in which Orlov skated more than 24 minutes, the Caps were 13-10-4.

Potential Milestones…
  • 400 career games (he needs 35)
  • 100 assists (he needs six)
  • 500 shots on goal (he needs 49)
  • 7,000 minutes (he needs 42)

The Big Question… Is “First Pair Defenseman” a permanent role for Dmitry Orlov?

Dmitry Orlov getting top minutes on a Stanley Cup winner might not have been what one might have envisioned when he was drafted in the second round of the entry draft in 2009.  It might not have been envisioned in 2016-2017 when he was fourth in average ice time among defensemen playing the entire season with the club (fifth if you include Kevin Shattenkirk’s 19 games).  However, he played more than 26 minutes in the Caps’ season opener last season and never looked back, skating less than 20 minutes only once in 82 games in the regular season and only once in 24 games in the playoffs.

But it is not as if Orlov exploded on the scene in 2017-2018, either.  He has become a quite durable defensemen, despite losing a chunk of his early career development to injury.  This was his third consecutive season appearing in every game, one of only five defensemen in the league to do so He also has become, if not a top-drawer offensive defenseman, at least a reliable one, scoring 29, 33, and 31 points last season in those three years.

In the end…

It is easy to underestimate the season Dmitry Orlov had in 2017-2018.  For instance, since 1997-1998, only 28 defensemen taken in the second round appeared in 60 games and averaged more 23 minutes per game at least one season.  Orlov's 2017-2018 season is one of them.  As an aside, given the lack of success the Caps had with defensemen taken in the second-round in the years immediately preceding Orlov’s pick (Eric Mestery, Theo Ruth, Josh Godfrey, and Keith Seabrook, none of whom ever played in an NHL game), Orlov’s ascent to the top pair is rather amazing.

Orlov heads into the 2018-2019 season having largely justified the six-year/$30.6 million contract that he signed last summer.  It has been a long time coming, especially with the bumps along the way early in his career, but as he enters his tenth season since being drafted by the Caps, time invested has been worth the effort.  He enters his prime years as one of the important elements in the Capitals’ success and a player they will have to depend on to maintain that success.

Projection: 82 games, 9-22-31, plus-8

Photo: Rob Carr/Getty Images North America