- The Washington Times - Monday, November 21, 2011

Here’s Dmitry Orlov, with the Washington Capitals, getting his first taste of the NHL at the tender age of 20.

Orlov might not be ready in every sense of that word, something fellow defenseman Karl Alzner knows from his first call-up.

“There’s going to be mistakes — there’s no doubt about it,” Alzner said. “You learn from experience.”

Orlov is expected to start that process Monday night against the Phoenix Coyotes, making his NHL debut.

His most valuable experience may have come with the Hershey Bears last season, working alongside and learning from a former NHL All-Star in Sheldon Souray. The veteran defenseman was disgruntled with the Edmonton Oilers and got loaned to Hershey to play out the season. But Souray helped Orlov fast-track his all-around game to help him toward the NHL.

“He has such a good hockey sense, that there wasn’t a whole lot to tell him. I just kind of read off him and he probably read off me a little bit,” Souray said. “Hopefully in some way it made it a little easier for Dmitry to come in and transition to this game.”

Souray was an invaluable part of Orlov’s existence in the American Hockey League.

“Sheldon was an offensive D-man, but he does it more from the blue line in rather than getting involved in the rush,” Hershey coach Mark French said in preseason camp. “It gave Dmitry a real good, solid D-pair that he knew exactly, predictable, what he was going to do.”

With the language barrier making communication a complicated ordeal, Souray’s simple, steady game helped immensely.

Souray doesn’t know Russian, so it wasn’t perfect, but he got through to Orlov nonetheless.

“We went through a lot of markers, a lot of hand signals. At the end of the day, the game is a lot of the same words and all that kind of stuff,” Souray said. “And the game is the game — it’s pretty much played the same way everywhere. Even though you might not be able to speak about going to dinner, or what you watched on TV last night, when you get to the rink, you can communicate.”

Orlov’s adjustment to that continues even now, as he’s not yet comfortable doing interviews in English but can make that seem like a footnote with his quickness and sharp play. He’s still young, so his play isn’t fool-proof, but his risk-reward style is something the Caps could use right now.

“He’s still going to make mistakes — [like being] overanxious — but [he’s able] able to make a play, especially if we’re losing,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. He’s out there, he’s creating, he’s doing a lot of good things.”

The rap on Orlov has been that his prowess is as an offensive defenseman and that he makes errors on the defensive end. That much was clear during a preseason spent with the Caps.

But he has a real edge to his game — unafraid to dish out hits, something helped along by his tutelage under Souray.

“At that age I was more of a rough-and-tumble player at that point in my career than a guy who was trying to make fancy plays,” Souray said. “You grow into being a more complete player, but I think Dmitry is way ahead of where I was at that point in my career.”

Speaking to the popular Caps blog Russian Machine Never Breaks, Orlov spoke in glowing terms about Souray.

“He was just a pleasure to play with. … He knew what he was doing on the ice, very confident,” he said. “I always tried to watch him and learn from him.”

The learning process ended after the 2010-11 season, as Souray was bought out of his deal with the Oilers and has since been one of the league’s most impressive comeback stories with the Dallas Stars.

But a new learning process began for Orlov this week with his first Caps call-up, and no matter the bumps along the way this should prove a major step in his development.

“Right now it looks like he’s in a pretty good situation to come in and regardless of what mistakes are made,” Alzner said. “He’s going to get that experience, and that’s going to turn him into a good player.”