PITTSBURGH — Dmitry Orlov sat in the corner of the visitors’ locker room Tuesday at Consol Energy Center as cameras surrounded Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin. The young Russian defenseman still isn’t confident in his English, even as he spoke eloquently about his difficult season and the time he missed with concussions.
“It’s hard time for me,” Orlov said the day after being called up by the Caps. “But I’m here and I’m so happy and … try to help the team because we need to step up, need the points. Hopefully I help [do] something.”
After 60 games last season, the 21-year-old Orlov was considered a major piece of the Caps’ blue line, now and in the future. But he suffered a concussion early in his season with the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League, and another Dec. 6 knocked him out for three months.
Conditioning was an issue in Orlov’s first game back March 9, but most importantly the concussion symptoms were gone. It took time to get his legs together, but now he’s feeling better.
Orlov getting healthy came at the right time for the Caps, who now have four defensemen on injured reserve: Mike Green (groin), John Erskine (apparent left hand/wrist/arm), Tomas Kundratek (right knee) and Tom Poti (back). Coach Adam Oates has been forced to play 10 different defensemen in the first 29 games.
“It’s the same for everybody,” Oates said. “Guys get called up and they fit into the lineup and you’ve got to play them.”
Orlov has more seasoning at this level than Kundratek or Steve Oleksy, who was signed earlier this month and recalled from Hershey. Orlov didn’t look out of place in the NHL at the age of 20, so his teammates don’t expect any different at age 21.
“It’s something that you never really know how a player’s going to react when they come up here,” goaltender Braden Holtby said. “Some guys find it easier; some guys just can’t seem to make that jump. Orly was one of those guys that, really, he could make that jump and he’s a confident kid.”
Confident, not cocky or arrogant, Holtby said. Orlov had three goals and 16 assists with the Caps last season, but he didn’t see any action in the playoffs.
That was likely more a product of coach Dale Hunter’s insistence on relying on veteran defensemen than an indictment of Orlov’s talent.
“You could tell his mental part of the game, how he thought the game, really got better throughout the year,” Holtby said. “Hopefully we can make him comfortable enough here.”
The Caps are plenty comfortable with Orlov based on last season. He made his season debut alongside Jeff Schultz on Tuesday night against the Penguins.
But Orlov already showed the ability to adjust to a lot of roles and partners during his rookie year.
“I’ve known him since he was 18, his first camp here and whatnot,” defenseman John Carlson said. “He’s very skilled and he’s a great skater, when he’s moving his feet he sees the play really well. I think in this day and age if you have that attribute as a defenseman to move the puck and get up ice, it makes it harder on them and easier on our forwards.”