The Washington Capitals selected the 6′, 197-lb defenseman 55th overall in the 2009 draft, a steal considering his career potential. A 17-year old Orlov showed off his flashy passing skills at Capitals Development Camp in July 2009 before returning to Russia. Orlov returned to Caps Development Camp last July a year older and wiser after a season in the Kontinental Hockey League, and in much better condition. This season in the KHL, the 19-year old Orlov has improved in many categories, 12 points in 45 games over 7 points in 41 last year, but his Metallurg Novokuznetsk squad is out of the playoff race. With hockey season ending in Russia and his eagerness to ply his trade in North America, Orlov is considering making the jump to the AHL for the rest of the season.
In addition to his KHL play, Orlov played a big role as Alternate Captain on Russia’s World Junior Championship gold medal winning team last month in Buffalo. His 8 assists led Team Russia and all tournament defensemen, and his +10 rating was the best in the tournament overall. When I saw him playing in the quarterfinals against Finland, I remarked that he has great offensive instincts, but that the “river boat gambler” moniker suits him. Once on the powerplay, he held onto the puck at the point after a windup, moved around a sliding defender, approached the net, and fired a slap shot at the goal from 35 feet. He had another play where he led the rush on a 3 on 2, lost the puck, and gave up a 3 on 2 the other way. In the semifinals against Sweden, he had a strong defensive game (+2), fired 6 shots on goal, and picked up an assist on the game-winning goal with 87 seconds left.
He seems to be the kind of player that could quarterback a powerplay and make things happen offensively all game. His -18 rating this season in the KHL is indicative of his risky mindset, but that’s nothing an experienced defense partner can’t mask. Orlov showed in the World Juniors he has the ability to play solid defense, and as he won’t turn 20 until July, he looks to have a bright future in the NHL.
That NHL future is still a couple years away, so I asked Katie, our Bears aficianado, to tell us what his arrival in the AHL could mean for Orlov’s development and for the Hershey Bears, especially with Sheldon Souray on re-entry waivers,.
Defense has been a tough area for the Bears’ this year. Unfilled departures, lengthly injuries, and musical blue-line partners have all been great concerns for the Chocolate and White. In many cases, Dany Sabourin, Braden Holtby, Todd Ford, and Jared DeMichiel have been hung out to dry in net. While it may not be the fault of the entire defensive corp in Hershey, it does seem to be indicative of the blows to the blue line that keep coming in waves.
Sean Collins has been forced to step up and be the leader of the Bears’ blue line this season by default after Patrick McNeil and Zach Miskovic were slated for mid-season starts while recovering from injury. The older vets who were expected to play large defensive leadership roles in Hershey haven’t been able to do so either. Lawrence Nycholat seems to have a private door to the trainer’s office in Hershey, and for the first few months of the season, Brian Fahey’s car could autopilot to DC and back without any human guidance. Sean Collins was the constant on a blue line of change, and the role of veteran leader fell on his shoulders. While Collins shows flashes of strong and steady d at times, he’s not ready to be a veteran defensive leader on a Calder Cup caliber team. It’s widely known that Souray was supposed to bring that to Hershey when he was loaned to the Bears, and to an extent he has. It’s common to see him encouraging the younger guys or call ups in warm ups before each game, and seems to almost take them under his wing when he can. However, Souray’s ice time in Hershey has been limited due to numerous injuries – and today it was reported that he was placed on re-entry waivers.
It may seem unfair to push leadership expectations on such a young player, but in Hershey it’s expected. In the quest for the Cup last season the Bears’ relied heavily on not only John Carlson and Karl Alzner, but Cody Eakin as well. If Eakin’s junior season wraps up in time to join Hershey on a playoff chase (much less likely since he was traded), having Orlov and Eakin on the same team could prove to be lethal.