- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 13, 2011

When Washington Capitals prospect Dmitry Kugryshev departed for Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League, it didn’t create too many shock waves around the organization.

Kugryshev’s time to blossom into an NHL-caliber player had most likely passed, and the team released him and relinquished his rights.

But Kugryshev served a specific purpose: translating for young Caps defensive prospect Dmitry Orlov, whose English was just about nonexistent when he came over to North America to play for the Hershey Bears (AHL) last winter. And while hockey comes quickly to Orlov, the language hasn’t - though it might speed up quickly with Kugryshev gone.

“I think the timing is good for him to kind of go cold turkey on it and to be fully immersed in the English language rather than having the crutch of another Russian player,” Bears coach Mark French said.

It’s the next step in Orlov’s development as he’s set to spend his first full season on this continent. Coaches and teammates have lauded the 20-year-old for being eager to leave home, and he certainly didn’t disappoint.

“I think he kind of came to us with a lot of expectations, and I think when he first came in, he probably exceeded them,” French said. “Instantly he fit into our top four and we played him a ton down the stretch.”

It didn’t go perfectly, though, despite Orlov’s offensive upside and the fact that he looks a bit like a young, unpolished John Carlson.

That’s because even during games, French noted that often he and his staff would have conversations with Kugryshev before that information was passed along to Orlov.

“I think as time went on, the biggest thing we found was the ability to communicate with him. Our job is to develop in Hershey, and without the ability to truly communicate with him, we felt that hindered it at times,” French said. “It’s an uncomfortable feeling for a coach when you don’t know if the message is truly getting to the player.”

Because of all that, the Capitals have made a commitment to helping Orlov get English lessons over the summer, French said. And the defenseman has committed himself to his on-ice game by arriving in the D.C. area early and working with older players and strength and conditioning coach Mark Nemish.

“What’s good about [him] is the attitude of just wanting to improve, wanting to get there quicker and not being satisfied with what I can do at home when you have the comforts of home. … [and thinking] I’m going to work my butt off, I’m going to make some sacrifices and do whatever I can to get in that position.’ ” Nemish said.

Orlov would need to blow the Caps away during main camp to make the NHL roster, meaning he’s likely to at least start the year in Hershey. There remains the possibility that he shuttles between the Caps and Bears, like Karl Alzner did a couple of years ago, but it’s easier to compare Orlov to Carlson, with a bit more of a desire to play physical.

“Dmitry might be more confrontational physically than what John is,” French said. “He enjoys that part of the game. John is a guy who will sit back a little - he doesn’t shy away.”

Orlov takes some risks with the physical game and jumping up into the play. Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau mentioned that Orlov looks eager to make passes from board to board, and decision-making is among the things he needs to improve on to make the next step.

“He does things that guys don’t do. I think those things will define him,” French said. “I think he’s got to refine some of his game to become a better defensive defenseman - that will never be his calling card, but I think to play at the next level, he’s got to get more comfortable with defending in a number of areas.”

Boudreau cautions that Orlov is still a young prospect, so there’s no sense rushing him right now.

“He’s going to be a good player one day,” Boudreau said. “I don’t know which day it’s going to be.”

• Stephen Whyno can be reached at swhyno@washingtontimes.com.

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