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Capitals’ Orlov signs one-year deal with chance to prove himself in top-four role

Dmitry Orlov was an underrated offensive threat for the Capitals last season, and his new role in the top four could set him up for a big raise come next off-season.

Dmitry Orlov was one of several players who entered the World Cup of Hockey as a restricted free agent, but he’ll be heading back to the Washington Capitals following the tournament on a brand new one-year, $2.57-million deal.

Orlov, 25, officially inked his new deal with the Capitals on Wednesday, and the young defenseman, who is currently representing Russia at the World Cup, said he’s happy to know he has a place to play once the tournament ends. 

But the excitement for Orlov should go well beyond that, because after an impressive season in his first full campaign as an NHL blueliner, there’s the promise of more minutes and a bigger role in 2016-17. Orlov told the Washington Post’s Isabelle Khurshudyan that he’s ready for that challenge.

“I need to show them what they expect from me and they want to see from me, so I need to be working hard and do my best to be this defenseman, top-four,” Orlov told Khurshudyan. “For sure, I respect what they say, but I need to show on the ice my game to be this defenseman.”

There’s reason to believe the one-year deal — effectively a bridge deal, as Orlov will remain a restricted free agent after this coming season — will be the best thing for him, too, because he showed this past season that he can produce at this level and more minutes should simply give him more opportunity to put points on the board.

This past season, there were 45 defensemen who played at least half a season and averaged less than 17 minutes of ice time. Among those were promising young blueliners, including players such as Matt Dumba and Colin Miller, and veterans who were best utilized in bottom-pairing roles. But of those 45 defenders, no one was able to put up points in limited ice time quite like Orlov.

Orlov’s 16:01 per game in 2015-16 was the lowest ice time of any defenseman to play the entire season, but his eight-goal, 29-point campaign was the best offensive performance of any blueliner to skate primarily bottom-pairing minutes. In fact, among blueliners who played 18 minutes or less, Orlov remains the top scorer. The same goes for those who averaged 19 minutes or less, and he ranks fifth among defenders who skated 20 minutes or less. 

All told, his 29 points put him in a tie for 51st in scoring for defensemen, and it’s hard to believe that won’t improve when he’s taking top-four minutes on the back end for the Capitals this season. And Washington coach Barry Trotz has said that putting Orlov in the top-four is indeed the plan.

So while the one-year deal may not give Orlov long-term security, it gives him the chance to cash in come next off-season. The Capitals will see a number of players, such as Karl Alzner, Daniel Winnik, Justin Williams and T.J. Oshie, become unrestricted free agents, and that could open up some serious salary space for Orlov to get a raise. 

All it’s going to take for that to happen is him having yet another impressive offensive season from the blueline, and after his 29-point campaign with third-pairing minutes, it’s hard to imagine Orlov won’t earn himself that raise come next summer.

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