Mark French

Photo credit: Hershey Bears Facebook Page

In early February, when Metallurg Novokuznetsk failed to reach the KHL playoffs, Dmitry Orlov worked out a deal with the team’s management. Instead of being sent down to the MHL to play for Metallurg’s affiliate during their playoff run, Orlov started his professional career in the Capitals’ organization to work towards his goal of becoming an NHL player.

He flew to America, and made his AHL debut with the Bears on February 27th. That night, Dima registered an assist, spent time on the power play, and had a first period so solid that Tim Leone called it “the best first 20 minutes from a 19-year-old D I’ve ever seen in this league.”

Orlov went on to total nine points in the remaining 19 games of the AHL regular season, and he experienced his first ever AHL playoff series, a 4-2 series loss to the Charlotte Checkers.

The six-foot Novokuznetsk native is now back in DC, participating in his first ever NHL Training Camp. I caught up with Hershey Bears Head Coach Mark French — the same man who guided the Bears to an AHL record 60 wins and the team’s eleventh Calder Cup in 2010 — and asked him about Orlov’s rookie season, what he needs to improve to make the NHL, and if Dima has the potential to be a 20-goal scorer in the NHL.

Ian Oland: How do you think Orlov did in Rookie Camp, in particular, the game against the Flyers?

Mark French: He played well. I think there were some areas of his game that we wanted to see improved, and we saw it steadily through camp, and I think it was a culmination in the game. I thought he was a difference-maker in the game. His strengths were his strengths in that game. He was an offensive threat virtually every time he was on the ice.

Ian Oland: What are the things that he needs to improve on to become a star in the NHL?

Mark French: I think we’ve seen the game against the Flyers. The Rookie game was a testament to the fact that he’s a very good player in his age level. I think he needs to do it consistently against men. Last year he started in the KHL and then he came and finished the year in Hershey. Things he gets away with at the junior level against junior age kids he won’t be able to get away with defensively at the NHL level: positioning and discipline. Defensive positioning is so much more important when you get to that level. He’ll need to refine his game and polish his game in those areas.

Ian Oland: What were your initial impressions of Dmitry in his first game with the Bears last year and the progression he showed even in that sixty minutes of play.

Mark French: I think everybody was taken aback — the impact that he immediately had at the American League level. I think the thing that struck me was that he was such a difference-maker. His top-end skill was immediately noticeable.

Ian Oland: Orlov got a lot of praise from the media after that game. Tim Leone was particularly impressed as well.

Mark French: I think those evaluations needed to be tempered a little bit. John Carlson was a pretty good young player that we had in Hershey as well. I think Dmitry’s got a lot of upside. What I really like about him that he has similar to John is he has a real swagger [on the ice]. They both don’t get intimidated by a situation. They both seem to rise to the occasion more than be intimidated by it. I think that’ll make him a very good hockey player.

Ian Oland: This year you guys are without Dmitry Krugyshev who served as a translator last year. How have you been communicating with him?

Mark French: It’s interesting. We obviously used Dmitry Krugyshev as a crutch last year. It was a huge asset for us to have. I think through training camp now, we have Galiev doing a lot of it. Once we get him to Hershey – well, if he ends up in Hershey – without that crutch of another Russian player it’s twofold. We’d love to have another Russian player there to help him out – but I think to go “cold turkey” on it and come to Hershey and not have anybody, I think it’ll force him to get a leg up on the English language a little bit quicker. I think it’ll be a good thing. We’ve seen a difference here already. He’s working with a tutor – an English tutor – which I think is very important. I think that’s the biggest thing. Once he can bridge that gap and he’s forced out on his own, we’ll see pretty big strides.

Ian Oland: If you’re lucky enough to have Dmitry in Hershey this year, do you have any particular player in mind to pair him with?

Mark French: That’s a great question. I think it is important. As much as we can coach from the bench, I think – especially for defensemen – to have a real good solid partner to talk to is really important to their development. To answer your question: no, we don’t. But we’d probably look to a veteran that would be able to shed some experience on the guy. Somebody who’s composed, a guy who can work with a young player real well.

Ian Oland: Do you think it’s possible that Dmitry Orlov could go over that 20-goal plateau someday in the NHL, maybe approach that 30-goal mark and have a year like Mike Green had a few years ago?

Mark French: Yeah. He’s got very, very good offensive instincts. And he’s got a willingness to take those risks. I think we’ve got to temper [our expectations]. As much as we want his game to improve defensively, we know he’s going to be defined by his offensive game. I think he’s got a lot of similarities to some very good offensive defensemen. He’s got an unbelievable skill set.

A little later today, we’ll be posting a companion piece to this post, where Dmitry Orlov responds and expands upon what Coach French said here.