Dmitry Orlov says all he ever wanted was a chance to play.
Not with another NHL team. Not with a team in the KHL.
The 22-year-old defenseman wanted a chance to prove himself with the Capitals and he appears to be making the best of it.
Five weeks after his agent, Mark Gandler, said he has “no future” with the Capitals and would not re-sign in Washington after this season, Orlov has cemented himself into the No. 4 spot in Capitals’ defensive rotation.
“I don’t think about what happened in past,” said Orlov, who spent most of October and November splitting time between the Capitals and Hershey Bears. “Just about right now. That’s all that’s on my mind right now -- today.”
Since being inserted into the Caps’ lineup on Nov. 30, Orlov has played in 16 straight games for the Caps. The past 12 games have come on the Caps’ second defense unit, initially with John Carlson and most recently alongside Mike Green.
“I think they’ve played good, I do,” Capitals coach Adam Oates said. “If anything, Orly has given Greenie a little bit of a spark. He’s playing much better. We talked about the more Orly plays correct in his own end the better his game will come and it has. He’s improved.”
Through 16 games, Orlov has one goal on 18 shots, one assist and is a minus-1 with just a pair of minor penalties, while averaging 19:31 in ice time, fourth-most among Caps defensemen.
“Every game I feel more confidence,” said Orlov, whose English has greatly improved since first arriving as a rookie under Dale Hunter two seasons ago. “I try not to make any mistakes in the D zone and help the team.”
Orlov said he is a different player – and a different person – than he was two years ago.
“This time, I understand better what coach tells me and play his system,” Orlov said. “Before it was new language, new culture, new town, and now I can understand more. It’s a big difference now.”
Orlov is still prone to aggressive mistakes. At the end of Thursday night’s overtime loss to the Hurricanes he gambled and lost on an offensive zone rush with Alex Ovechkin, but he’s also become more aware of not chasing after hits and has been more reliable in his own end playing alongside Green.
“He’s a good player,” Orlov said of Green, who scored a season-high two goals in the Caps’ 5-3 loss in Minnesota Saturday night. “We’re both like offensive players and it’s good for us because we get more chances. If I can jump, I jump. If he can jump, he jumps.”
To some coaches that may sound like a recipe for disaster, but Oates said Orlov and Green know their first responsibility is in the defensive zone and not getting caught up in risk-reward hockey.
“It doesn’t work that way,” Oates said. “They’ve got to do the job. If you don’t play in your own end, you’re not going to play.”