- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Dmitry Orlov slowly cocked his head back, then, as he brought it forward, he exhaled, finally letting a slight smile creep across his face. The three-inch crescent on his left wrist, pink and scarred, reminds him every day of the tribulations of the past 16 months, no matter how hard he tries to put them out of his mind.

“I don’t want to think about it,” Orlov said, referring to the surgery, the prolonged recovery and the lost time. “I just want to forget and have a new year, a new season. Just forget and enjoy life right now.”

For Orlov to move on, though, he must, in some ways, embrace the past. That’s why on Wednesday, as the Washington Capitals gathered their developmental prospects for a two-hour scrimmage, Orlov was among them, moving pucks and throwing checks and shedding limitations.

His inclusion had nothing to do with a lack of belief and trust, coach Barry Trotz emphasized afterward. Instead, it’s about recognizing that sitting out for an entire season has led to some rust, and at this point, without playing in an organized game, Orlov’s recovery cannot appropriately continue.

“He’s practiced, and his skill of handling pucks and skating and strength and all those things that you can work on from a standpoint of individual stuff? Excellent,” Trotz said. “Where he’s behind a little bit is in the process. He’s missed a whole year.”

Orlov underwent surgery on his left wrist in May 2014 after breaking it while playing for Russia in the world championships. He had the pins removed from the wrist two months later, but developed an infection that slowed his recovery. After originally expecting to be ready for the start of last season, Orlov instead watched many games from the press box, with discussions of a second surgery growing increasingly serious.

That additional procedure was averted, and in March, he saw his first action in nearly a year, joining the Hershey Bears of the AHL for a three-game conditioning stint. That would end up as the highlight of his season; a combination of factors, including concerns about his health, the Capitals’ salary cap situation and the success of the six defensemen on the ice, left him out of the lineup for the playoff run.

“I was ready to play,” Orlov said. “At practice, it’s hard, too, because you never know what’s going to happen. If Coach puts me in the lineup, I should play right away, so I was ready. I was enjoy [watching] our team play in the playoffs.”

Once the season ended, Orlov flew home to Novokuznetsk, a city in southwestern Siberia, where he trained with fellow native Sergei Bobrovsky, the Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender. He returned to the United States in July and continued to work out with a variety of teammates until training camp opened earlier this month.

Entering this season, he’s penciled in with Nate Schmidt as the Capitals’ third defensive pair, with the two taking shifts behind Brooks Orpik and John Carlson, and Karl Alzner and Matt Niskanen.

“Moving the puck up the ice, I mean, we’re both guys who skate really well, and we try to move the puck as quick as we can because we’re both are really mobile and we both can get up and down the ice pretty well,” Schmidt said. “We’re just trying to be able to have that chemistry again and have that ability to switch. We’re both left-handed and we can both play the right side, so having that versatility is really going to help when we get into the season.”

Orlov’s first chance to don the game uniform arrived on Monday, when he played a team-high 21:36, took one shot and blocked four others in a 2-0 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes in the preseason opener.

Trotz, who noticed Orlov’s nominally pleasant demeanor fade as the hardships of last season wore him down, congratulated the defenseman afterward on his first game back. Orlov exhaled, then beamed.

“He had a big old smile when he was coming off the ice against Carolina,” Trotz said. “He had a grin from ear to ear, and I said, ‘Hey, you’re finally back,’ and he had the big old grin.”

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