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Facing restricted free agency again, Dmitry Orlov in a much better position than a year ago

Facing restricted free agency again, Dmitry Orlov in a much better position than a year ago

Dmitry Orlov’s contract saga last season dragged up until two days before training camp when  he was signed to a one-year, $2.57 million deal. Now that year is up and the Russian defenseman is in need of another contract.

Unlike last year, however, there should be no question as to whether he has earned himself a top-four role on the Caps’ blue line.

In 2016, Orlov was coming off an uneven performance in the postseason that even saw him serve as a healthy scratch for a game. After the season general manager Brian MacLellan called him a “high-event” player because “Both ends there’s some events going on.”

The knock on Orlov was that, while he had tremendous upside, he also took too many risks that turned into costly turnovers.

RELATED: Connolly sees a future with Caps

After the 2016-17 season, however, the evaluation of Orlov is much different.

“I think people were a little shortsighted and not seeing his potential and I think we saw his potential come out this year,” said Matt Niskanen who spent the majority of the season as Orlov’s defensive partner. “He still had the guts to make plays and he has that ability where he can break the puck out on his own, he can make things happen in the offensive zone, he can beat people, strong for his size, wins battles. I think we saw his potential come out this year.”

Orlov, who will turn 26 in July, was given a bigger role on the team this season and he certainly made the most of it, setting a career-high in points with 33. No pairing on the team had a greater Corsi for percentage (56.49) or relative Corsi percentage (5.81) than Orlov and Niskanen.

“I tried to do my best, tried to be better than last year, tried to get confidence and get my game going and feel comfortable,” Orlov said. “I play with Nisky most of the time. He's a great player and he great teammate. He knows he can help me and I look at him how he play, try to learn from him. Everything kind of was good.”

So good, in fact, that Orlov and Niskanen will likely be the Caps’ top pairing next season. But, that could also prove to be a problem for a Capitals team that looks to be right up against the salary cap next season.

Orlov was also a restricted free agent last season. He elected not to file for arbitration and the result was a lengthy contract negotiation that stretched into late September. Going through that process again may not be the most enticing prospect and is one Orlov has tried not to think about.

“All season I don't think about that,” Orlov said. “I try to focus on my game and get better hockey player.”

But this year is a bit different. In 2016, Orlov was an inconsistent player with plenty of potential who was also prone to making huge mistakes. The big question for him was whether he was good enough to be a top-four defenseman. This year, he is one of the best and most consistent defensemen on the team capable of strong play on both ends of the ice who is poised to be on the Caps’ top pair next season.

In short, he’s a player the team can’t afford to lose.

"It was a coming out party for him I think,” Niskanen said. “He turned into a stud. He was our best D-man on many, many occasions this year, by a long shot sometimes. I was really proud of him and the way he handled it.”

MORE CAPITALS: With expansion draft, Grubauer faces uncertain future

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What Caps prospect Jonas Siegenthaler is doing to show he's ready for roster spot

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What Caps prospect Jonas Siegenthaler is doing to show he's ready for roster spot

Jonas Siegenthaler joined the Capitals' informal practices on Monday morning in an effort to get a head start on what figures to be a critical couple of months for the 20-year-old.

When training camp opens in mid-September, he'll be one of a handful of bubble players and prospects battling for two openings on Washington's blue line, if you count the spare. Even for those who don’t make the cut out of camp, it’s a chance to establish their spot in the pecking order for early-season call-ups.

Siegenthaler says he’s ready and looking forward to the competition.

“You work hard even more in the summer if you know [there are jobs available],” he said at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. “And, obviously, every young guy knows that. I think every guy will get in great shape and do everything for the spot. And at the end, the better one will get a spot.”

“It’s going to be a hard battle,” the 2015 second-rounder added, “and I’m excited to accept that challenge.”

RELATED: Previewing the 2017-18 Metro Division

Siegenthaler is the first of the young defensemen to join the Caps’ informal offseason skates, having arrived from Zurich a few days ago. He wanted to get here early for a couple of reasons: to work out at the team’s top-notch facility and to show everyone how serious he is about earning a spot next month. A year ago, Siegenthaler did not get the chance to play in a preseason game.

“It’s a great opportunity to train here with Nemo,” Siegenthaler said, referring to Washington’s strength and conditioning coach Mark Nemish. “I can get used to it and be more ready for camp. I’m trying everything to set my goals high — that’s why I’m here.”

He continued: “I want to show them that I want to play here. I think’s a pretty good sign. I think I’m ready.”

Coach Barry Trotz and his assistants, of course, will ultimately determine whether he’s ready — or at least how close he is to being ready based on camp and the preseason.

Siegenthaler, a left shot who is listed by the Caps at 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, said he worked diligently with his personal off-ice coach in Switzerland this summer to improve his explosiveness. He also said he focused on building more upper body strength — another area the staff asked him to address following a solid showing at development camp in June.

“My skating, especially my quickness — it was my weakness over years and years,” Siegenthaler said. “I’m still working on it. You never can get to 100 percent, but you want the highest percentage [possible]. I will be working on quickness my whole career. I think that’s normal. I see improvements right now, and I hope I can improve more [before] camp and over the season.”

Another area where Trotz and company will want to see improvement from Siegenthaler will be his comfort level on smaller North American rink. It takes time, and he’s appeared in just 18 regular season and playoff games for the Bears over the past two seasons.

“It’s another game from Europe,” he said. “In Switzerland, the rink was bigger and you have more time. I need to get in my mind that you can’t always look for a beautiful [outlet] pass, or good pass. Sometimes it’s got to be a chip out with the boards.”

If he’s got to work his way up the ladder, he indicated that he’s ready to do whatever it takes. That said, his focus over the few weeks is going to be a singular one: earning a spot on the Caps’ roster.

“Everything is going to happen quicker, so I got to be ready,” he said. “But I think I am. We’ll see at camp.”

MORE CAPITALS: Devante Smith-Pelly on the list of top 25 most important players

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Capitals' 2017-18 Division Preview: Breaking down the rest of the Metro

Capitals' 2017-18 Division Preview: Breaking down the rest of the Metro

Last season, the Metropolitan Division was the toughest in the NHL, producing the Stanley Cup champ, the regular season champ and three of the top four teams in the overall standings.

How’s the division shaping up for 2017-18 after a summer of change for a few of its eight teams?

This week, CSN is taking a look at each club's offseason moves and predicting how they’ll do this winter.

Team: Carolina Hurricanes

2016-17 Results: 36-31-15 (87 points). Seventh in division, 12th in conference. Did not reach the playoffs.

Notable acquisitions: F Justin Williams, F Josh Jooris, G Scott Darling, D Trevor van Riemsdyk, F Marcus Kruger

Notable departures: F Jay McClement, G Eddie Lack

2017-18 Hurricanes analysis and prediction: Carolina is arguably the most improved team this offseason and also return a stong, young core. The most important move was the trade for goalie Scott Darling. The Hurricanes were ranked 26th in team save percentage last season. If Darling can provide consistency in net, that will be a huge boost. Carolina finished last season eight points out of the playoffs. Even with some questions on offense, they can easily make up that gap with the improvements they made. 

Team: New Jersey Devils

2016-17 Results: 28-40-17 (70 points). Eighth in division, 16th in conference. Did not reach the playoffs.

Notable acquisitions: F Nico Hischier, F Brian Boyle, F Marcus Johansson

Notable departures: F Michael Cammalleri, D Mirco Mueller, D Jon Merrill

2017-18 Devils analysis and prediction: After years of looking like they had no direction, there may finally be light at the end of the tunnel for New Jersey. The Devils improved tremendously on offense with Nico Hischier, the top overall draft pick, and Marcus Johansson. Did they do enough to end their five-year playoff drought? Probably not, but they did take a big step in the right direction.

Team: New York Islanders

2016-17 Results: 41-29-12 (94 points). Fifth in division, 9th in conference. Did not reach the playoffs.

Notable acquisitions: F Jordan Eberle

Notable departures: G Jean-Francois Berube, D Travis Hamonic, F Ryan Strome

2017-18 Islanders analysis and prediction: After firing Jack Capuano midseason, the Islanders went 24-12 under Doug Weight. They then proceeded to do little to help him in the offseason. Jordan Eberle is a solid addition and their three-goalie headache is now solved thanks to J.F. Berube going to Vegas. But this is a team that did not make the playoffs last year and did very little to improve, banking instead on their prospects being able to contribute enough to get them over the edge. To go with the concerns on the ice, there is also a major concern off of it as they will have to deal with the headache of John Tavares nearing free agency without an extension. The noise surrounding Tavares' status will only get louder as the season goes on. Can they compete for a playoff spot? Sure, but they will ultimately be watching the postseason from home.

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