NHL.com continues its preview of the 2013-14 season, which will include in-depth looks at all 30 teams throughout September.
From Mike Green to Karl Alzner and John Carlson, the Washington Capitals have drafted and developed some quality defensemen in the past decade.
Dmitry Orlov has shown flashes of being the next impact player at the position for the franchise, but a bit of a lost season and a logjam at the position has his future in a state of flux.
"He can be a really good player," Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin said. "He has great skill, can skate, make good passes. He has to take his chances."
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Orlov was a second-round pick (No. 55) by Washington in the 2009 NHL Draft, and didn't take long to impress people in the organization as a summer-camp standout. He joined Hershey in the American Hockey League near the end of the 2010-11 season and immediately became a key figure for the Bears.
The next season he had 19 points in 60 games for the Capitals and did not look out of place in a top-four role when Green was hurt. He began last season with Hershey because of the lockout, and an upper-body injury left him unable to begin the NHL season. He missed three months in total, only ended up playing five games in the NHL and didn't look like the same smooth, offensively gifted defenseman.
While the Capitals have Green, Alzner and Carlson, the last spot in the top four has been a question mark. John Erskine filled the role for much of last season, earning a significant increase in ice time compared to previous seasons.
Defense - WSH
G: 0 | A: 1 | P: 1
SOG: 1 | +/-: 5
Coach Adam Oates
sternly has defended Erskine during the preseason, saying there is no competition for that spot even if pundits have suggested it remain a question mark for an otherwise talented team.
Orlov could end up starting the season in Hershey, because the Capitals have a glut of third-pair type defensemen. Jack Hillen, Steve Oleksy and Tyson Strachan all have to pass through waivers (Orlov would not) if the team keeps seven defensemen, so Orlov could be the odd-man out.
General manager George McPhee did not make a major addition on the blue line this summer, in part because the team believes in Erskine in the short term, but also in Orlov still fulfilling his significant promise.
"He's a pretty dynamic player, and he could be a real difference maker," McPhee said. "That’s the hard thing about managing in today's NHL. There was a time when in this League where you'd want to check out a young guy, and if it worked out, fine, but if it didn't work out you could always make a trade to fill the hole. That doesn't happen anymore because those trades aren't there sometimes. You have to make a decision in the summer and hope that you're right, because if not you have to go searching for a trade and you don't know if you'll be able to find what you want."