It’s hard to imagine a better 2016-17 for Dmitry Orlov. Given a shot at a top-four role, Orlov thrived on a pairing with Matt Niskanen. Orlov showed that not only can he handle that top-four role, but by the end of the season he and Niskanen were the Caps’ top pair and were doing a darn fine job at it.
|19:32||time on ice per game|
|56.0||5-on-5 shot-attempt percentage, adjusted|
|62.4||5-on-5 goal percentage, adjusted|
About this visualization: This series of charts made by Micah Blake McCurdy of hockeyviz.com shows various metrics for the player over the course of the 2016-17 season. A short description of each chart:
Niskanen and Orlov skated 727 minutes together during the regular season and many of these minutes were against top-six forwards. During this time, the Caps owned 58.1 percent of the shot attempts, enough to easily place this pair among the top-10 defensive pairings in puck possession in the league.
Almost all of Orlov’s teammates benefited from playing with him. Here’s a look at the 15 teammates who skated 100 or more minutes with Orlov at 5-on-5, and how these players did in terms of puck possession both with and without Orlov.
Thirteen of the 15 players saw their shot attempt percentage improve when they played with Orlov (the blue lines), and many of them saw their possession improve dramatically. It would be hard to argue against the fact that Orlov makes his teammates, and therefore his team, much better when he’s on the ice.
Orlov has previously drawn the ire of coaches and fans due to very noticeable mistakes he makes due to his style of play. 2016-17 should have done a lot to alleviate these concerns as the amount of noticeable mistakes by Orlov seemed to decline. This is supported by the fact that Orlov finished third on the team in on-ice scoring chance percentage at 55.9 percent. So, whatever mistakes Orlov may still be making are not showing up as a deficit in shot attempts, scoring chances, or goals (the Caps scored 61 percent of the total goals when he was on the ice this season).
Orlov doesn’t just compare favorably to his teammates, he also compares favorably to all defensemen around the league, and has for the entirety of the two seasons he’s played since missing all of 2014-15 with a wrist injury. Over the last two seasons, 220 defensemen have played 750-plus minutes at 5-on-5. We know Orlov is a great possession player, so here’s how Orlov stacks up in a few other important categories:
Entering this season Orlov was a defensemen with a ton of upside who had some concerning holes in his game. Orlov did everything he could to fix those holes in his game. While one season may not be enough for me to confidently say Orlov can be fully trusted with a top-pair role moving forward, his 2016-17 certainly supports the fact that Orlov is capable of handling that role, and it should be his role to lose entering 2017-18.
The Caps should also be looking to expand Orlov’s role next season. The fact that he shoots left-handed does not make him an ideal role for the point on the PP, but he’s likely to get some time there due to his offensive skills. But the Caps should also give Orlov a chance to kill penalties next season. In the time he’s been allowed to kill penalties, Orlov has shown that his skating and puck-handling abilities can be an asset to the unit. While it’s a small sample, the Caps allow 69.5 shot attempts against per 60 on the PK when Orlov is on the ice. This is first by a mile, as the next closest defender is Brooks Orpik at 81.1 shot attempts against per 60. It may turn out that Orlov’s style of play doesn’t mesh with the PK unit, but early returns show he should get a longer look there.
The bottom line is this: If Orlov’s 2017-18 is as strong as his 2016-17, a year from now we’ll be talking about the Caps’ number one defensemen, Dmitry Orlov.
What do you think the future holds for Orlov? Do you think he can repeat his 2016-17 season? Is he deserving of a bigger role on special teams?
Headline photo: Amanda Bowen
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