Photo credit: Justin K. Aller
Coming into training camp, Washington Capitals defenseman Dmitry Orlov was looking forward to his third full season of hockey in North America. A couple of months into the season though, his hopes and expectations remain unfulfilled, as Orlov started the season in Hershey, then lost some time battling an eye infection, and then spent the rest of the time alternating between a healthy scratch with the Caps and an occasional game or two with the Bears. While there had been speculation regarding the reasons behind Dima’s numerous short-term assignments to Hershey followed by gameless call-ups to the Capitals, last night, The Washington Post’s Katie Carrera’s finally shone light on this mystery – a special clause in Orlov’s contract allows him to sign a deal in the KHL if he is not on NHL roster for at least 30 days this season by January 1st.
Just a couple of hours before the Capitals announced that Orlov was returned to Hershey for the fifth time this season, we caught up with Dima after the Caps’ morning practice and talked about the situation and how he is handling it.
Dmitry Orlov: This situation – not playing in many games, being a healthy scratch – is happening for the first time in my career. It’s not easy; of course, I have to adjust to this. I try to work out more at the gym, ride the stationary bike, run sprints – stuff like that; I must keep myself in shape, so I can jump in and play at any time. And when they say I have to go back to Hershey, I get to play there right away, so I must maintain readiness at all time. I try to stay in good enough shape so that when I get an opportunity to play, I’ll be ready to show what I can do from the very first shift.
Yeah, it is hard to deal with this situation. But I have to – it is not the end of the world. When I am told that I am being sent down to Hershey – I actually feel good about it, because I know I am going to get to play hockey, which is what I love to do. And I try to help the team there and produce results. I get better with every game I play there, and I help the team. It is experience, and you have to take the best from it.
We can only imagine how hard it is for a 22-year-old to grow as a hockey player when he spends so much of his time either as a healthy scratch or driving back and forth between Washington and Hershey. And it is not any easier to deal with this situation on a personal level, so I asked Dima what he does to avoid letting this uncertainty get the better of him.
Dmitry Orlov: It’s very difficult to shuttle back and forth. I don’t really know the answer to this question. I am just trying to hold on and keep myself together, try to find something positive… yes, that’s the situation I am in – but what can I do? I can’t just give up. My girlfriend is here now, and that of course helps me deal with this situation. I am not alone; I can always talk to her about things. She helps me, she understands and supports me.
As always, Dima tried to remain upbeat and cheerful during our chat, but it was obvious that the current predicament was weighing on his mind. It appeared that he really had set his expectations at a pretty high level for this year, put in a lot of effort over the summer and now, through no apparent fault of his own, is not given a chance to find out if his hard work and dedication would finally pay off at the NHL level.
Dmitry Orlov: I thought I really prepared well during this off-season. I worked very hard, I was in good shape. But now, of course it’s hard to measure how well I prepared for the season, because I don’t get to play that often. With such large gaps between games, I can’t really tell how successful my summer training was. As soon as I get to play regularly, I’ll be able to tell if the summer preparations paid off. I don’t think my game has changed a lot this season from the last one. Maybe, because I only get to play so infrequently, whenever I do get in a game, I have so much desire to play. Of course, the desire should be like that regardless of how often you play.
Adam Oates’ steadfast preference for playing defensemen on their strong side is well known, while left-shooting Orlov actually spent most of his hockey life playing on the right side, so I asked Dima how comfortable he feels with the switch at this point.
Dmitry Orlov: I did get to play both on the left and on the right of defense in Hershey this year. Of course, I still feel more comfortable on the right, that’s understandable, I played there my whole life, but if the coach thinks it’s better when everybody plays on their strong side – I understand that. And I agree, in some situations it does give you an advantage if you are on your strong side. Every coach has his own perspective on that; our job as players is to execute what the coach says.
And now, of course we move to everybody’s favorite topic: can Dima tell us anything new about his buddy Evgeny Kuznetsov’s ever-changing plans for joining the Capitals? What are the chances we’ll see Kuzya in Caps uniform before the end of this season?
Dmitry Orlov: I talk to Zhenya often; I am glad he recovered from his injury so quickly and is back on the ice. I also know he is getting ready to try himself here, he really wants to, and the team is ready for him as well. This year? I think it all depends on how their [Traktor] season turns out. But of course I cannot speak for him, anything is possible.
And with that, Dima left Kettler for his afternoon nap – only to be awakened by the latest news of his reassignment to Hershey. Again.