When the Washington Capitals called up defenseman Dmitry Orlov prior to a 3-2 victory over the New York Islanders on November 30, there were few who thought he would stay for the long haul. In that game, Orlov received 13:41 of playing time, and head coach Adam Oates had shown no belief in the defender in the past.
One must only look at the fact that Oates did not give the Russian even one minute on the ice at the NHL level since taking over prior to the 2012-13 season– despite the fact he played 60 games under Dale Hunter in 2011-12 — to believe that the coach and player had a feud brewing. There was even genuine belief that Orlov was becoming so displeased with the head coach that a return to the KHL in Russia was looming.
But after that first game, Oates did something that few could have predicted: he kept Orlov on the roster. Since that vote of confidence, the defender has responded and in a great way.
In each of the last 13 games, Orlov has played 15:46 or more, and has even played more than 20:00 in seven of the last nine games. During this time, he has moved from being a scratch candidate to a presence on the second pair alongside Mike Green, in the process jumping over Steven Oleksy, John Erskine and Nate Schmidt (who was even sent down after a December 13 loss to the Florida Panthers).
This lifeline has surely not been sent out of pure luck either, as the defender has proven to be a dynamic and talented player that can fill roles on both the offensive and defensive ends of the ice.
Offensively, Orlov has shown a great presence with the puck, proving to be an efficient puck-mover and threat from the point with a low and hard shot. To add to this offensive portion of his game, the defender also has a silky-smooth skating style that allows him to easily transition on both ends of the ice, forcing defenses to face yet another weapon on the Capitals.
On the defensive end, Orlov has proven to be even more of a revelation. Despite only being 5-foot-11 and 211 pounds, he brings a physical aspect to the ice and is not afraid to challenge bigger and stronger players both in front of the net and in the corners. When playing with Green as a defensive partner, this is a necessary trait, and it has paid off as the two have established good chemistry over the last month.
With the ability to contribute both offensively and defensively, there is no doubting that Orlov is going to be a mainstay in Washington the rest of the 2013-14 season and going forward. There is also no doubting that his balanced play gives the Capitals a core of four defenders that will be around for the long haul.