November 21, 2017

Wentz, Embiid tough acts to follow, but Provorov is keeping pace

Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov has a shadow problem.

And it has nothing to do with an opposing player following him around the ice.

Provorov's problem comes in the dual shadows cast by the Eagles' Carson Wentz, and the seven-foot-long one of Sixers sensation Joel Embiid.

You want to talk about a couple of shadows that can make you hard to see, consider that there is an almost-national debate about who could be the bigger star, Wentz or Embiid. All the while, in a season and a half, Provorov has established himself as one of the NHL's most consistent and promising young defensemen.

“I am not surprised at all," said Calgary Flames president of Hockey Operations Brian Burke, who was in town over the weekend to watch his club against the Flyers. “We loved the kid as a prospect and weren’t surprised he went so high in the (2015) draft.”

Burke and the rest of the Flames' brass got to see a lot of Provorov, who played for the Brandon Wheat Kings of the Western Hockey League when he was drafted seventh overall by the Flyers.

But talk about getting lost in a shadow, just about every first-round pick in that draft was totally overshadowed by the two top names, first-overall pick Connor McDavid, who went to Edmonton, and the No. 2 pick, Jack Eichel, who was drafted by the Buffalo Sabres.

When it came the Flyers' turn to pick, they decided to go with Provorov with hopes that he would develop into the sort of No. 1, steady defenseman who could become the absolute center of a developing group of young talents.

Bingo.

Almost since his first shift with the Flyers, Provorov has proven to be the keystone the organization had needed to build a defensive corps.

Mind you, he does not possess the breathtaking offensive skills of Shayne Gostisbehere, who has rightfully earned the fans’ appreciation. But, Provorov is a steadier player, one who has increasingly been called upon to steady the ship in times of turmoil.

He is one of those very rare players who you just assume will make the right play – always.

In fact, when Provorov does make a mistake, you almost have to do a double take, and that includes the players on the ice. Just last week against the Minnesota Wild, the opening faceoff was lost by the Flyers, and the puck skidded into the Flyers' end of the ice.

Calmly, Provorov headed into a corner to the right of his goaltender, and everybody – EVERYBODY – assumed he would come out with the puck.

Unfortunately, the Flyers forwards are just so conditioned that Provorov wins those battles, that center Jordan Weal and the other forwards all turned their skates up ice, leaving their defensive assignments.

Well, it was one of the few times Provorov did not win that battle and with everyone essentially out of position, the Flyers fell behind 1-0.

It was a lost battle, but more than just that, the play was an example of just how accustomed the Flyers have become to Provorov winning those battles and sending the offense on its way.

And 99 percent of the time, that is exactly what happens – and should continue to happen for a very long time to come as Provorov gets even more comfortable in his ability to control a game.

There is just simply no situation the Flyers cannot thrust Provorov into on the ice, and the best part is that Provorov is an absolute machine in terms of his ability to handle gobs of playing time. Flyers coach Dave Hakstol must be tempted to simply leave him on the ice for half the game, but going into Tuesday night’s game against the Vancouver Canucks Provorov’s team-leading ice time was just under 25 minutes (24:53), among the top 20 in the NHL. 

He also led the team with 583 shifts, an average of just under 30 per game.

It is not just the total ice time that Provorov accrues that makes him valuable, but the short recovery time he needs to get back on the ice. Unlike most players, who need a shift or two to get their lung’s ready to take another gulp, it appears that Provorov simply needs to take a seat for less than a half a minute and can then bolt back on the ice at full speed.


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Although he might not be as flashy as Gostisbehere, Provorov has also begun to establish himself as a true offensive driving force. In a league that has all but abandoned the D-to-D breakout patterns, Provorov has become a master of kick-starting the offense with breakout passes, and he has become more valuable as an offensive threat of his own breaking into the offensive zone.

In fact, Provorov’s 52 shots on goal are five more than Ghost has accumulated, and the Flyers can use the pairing of Ghost and Provorov the way some teams can use a first line to overpower teams, and they can each certainly fuel a power play.

And the best part, Ivan Provorov is only 20-years old.

With that sort of talent and his age, the only shadow in the future might be the shadow of players such as Wentz, Embiid and Provorov cast over opponents who come into Philadelphia for the next decade or more.