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Philadelphia Flyers Top 25 Under 25: Ivan Provorov closing in on the NHL

Ivan Provorov proved last season that he's mastered the junior hockey league level. The only question that remains is when he'll earn a spot with the Flyers.

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

There was a significant amount of talk among national hockey insiders last summer that Ivan Provorov might legitimately be NHL-ready just months after being drafted by the Philadelphia Flyers. As a result, Provorov entered Flyers camp in 2015 with a great deal of hype and was positioned by many as the "savior of the defense" for the team.

Ron Hextall had other ideas. After Provorov failed to blow the doors off his competition in the early portion of camp and preseason, the Flyers' general manager quickly sent his prized defense prospect back to the WHL for another season with the Brandon Wheat Kings. The directive from Hextall to Provorov may have been implicit, but it was simple -- clean up the minor issues in your game, work on consistency and conditioning, and make the decision much tougher for us next season.

It's hard to argue that Ivan Provorov didn't check all of those boxes in 2015-16.

No. 3: Ivan Provorov

Position: D
Age: 19 (1/13/1997)
2015-16 League/Team/Statistics: Brandon (WHL) - 21 G, 52 A in 73 GP
Nationality: Russian (Yaroslavl)
Acquired Via: 2015 NHL Draft -- Round 1, Pick 7

Provorov was already one of the best defensemen in the WHL during his draft year, but last season he scratched "one of" out of that description. He was as complete of a defenseman as you'll see in junior hockey -- played in all three situations, created offense, won puck battles, and locked down opposing forwards. Plus/minus is obviously a terrible stat, but when you receive as many minutes as Provorov did and you finish a +64, you're probably doing a lot of things right.

Unlike in his draft year, Provorov's stellar play continued through the postseason, as Hextall himself noted in July.

[In 2014-15, the Wheat Kings] were in the playoffs and [Provorov] hit a wall. Typical young kid. He’s 17 years old, and they had a long season, went deep in the playoffs, and he hit a wall.

He didn’t hit a wall this year. Played very well start to finish, and then he played in that [Memorial] Cup.

Provorov did appear to slow down just a bit during the Memorial Cup itself, but that was after 90 games (62 regular season, 21 playoffs, seven in the World Junior Championships) of hockey and while facing the best junior teams in Canada. What is clear is that Provorov stayed great far longer in 2015-16 than he did in 2014-15, while taking an even larger role for his team.

He was rewarded with the CHL Defenseman of the Year award, given to the best blueliner out of all three Canadian junior hockey leagues (OHL, QMJHL, WHL). Winning this award does not guarantee NHL success, considering that players like Danny Syvret and Jonathon Blum are past recipients. But the recent list also includes impact defensemen like Dougie Hamilton and Ryan Ellis, in addition to older winners like Keith Yandle and Dan Hamhuis. And then, of course, there's the great Chris Pronger, who won the trophy way back in 1993.

After being voted the best defenseman in junior hockey, what could possibly be next for Provorov? If you talk to him, it's clear that his primary focus is leaving the WHL behind entirely and breaking camp with the Philadelphia Flyers. That's understandable on the part of the 19-year old -- in his mind, he's ready for the next challenge after lighting up his age-appropriate level last season. But Ron Hextall will be the one making the final decision on Provorov's status, and he's a hard man to please.

As Hextall repeated during the summer, he doesn't buy the line of thinking that a prospect's development will stall by staying at a lower level too long.

I think any player can be the best player in junior hockey if they go back, right? Any of those guys. We want all of our players to be better than they were last year.

Is there more for [Provorov] to do if in fact he goes back to juniors? Of course there is. He could be the best player in junior hockey hopefully, or the Western League. There’s always something.

In the end, the decision on Provorov will be made based upon his performance in training camp and preseason, in tandem with his ability to prove superior to one or more options on the current Philadelphia blueline. On Monday, I opined why that shouldn't be a very difficult task.

The hard truth is that the bar isn’t particularly high. As noted previously, Andrew MacDonald and Nick Schultz rank in the bottom-fifth of the NHL in terms of 5v5 on-ice performance over the past three years. These aren’t solid third pair defensemen; they are low-end NHL players when it comes to driving positive results. And if you buy Expected Goals as a better way to evaluate Brandon Manning than Corsi, then he’s right there with them.

It would be one thing if all seven of the Flyers’ defensemen were stationed in the 50th percentile or above in most of the on-ice categories. Then, Provorov would need to prove to the coaching staff and front office that he is already an above-average NHL defenseman. Instead, he really just has to prove that he’s better than one of MacDonald, Schultz, or Manning — a much less difficult task.

Of course, being better on paper is one thing. Provorov will need to go out there and prove his superiority over the competition to Hextall, Dave Hakstol, and the rest of the Flyers braintrust in every game, practice and scrimmage. So far, the initial impressions have been positive, but it's impossible to read the mind of Hextall. He could have a totally different evaluation of Provorov's play so far.

The 19-year old Provorov has received a ridiculous amount of hype over the last few weeks, but for once, the hype is warranted. So far in his career, he has looked the part of a possible top-pair, two-way NHL defenseman, totally worthy of his lofty draft selection and of the glowing reports from scouts. That's no guarantee that Provorov will reach that ceiling -- after all, few prospects do. But Provorov's odds of getting there are higher than any Flyers prospect not yet in the NHL, which makes his push towards making the roster over the coming weeks especially exciting.


How we voted for Ivan Provorov :

Kelly Travis Charlie Allison Kurt Brent Collin Kevin Al Community
4 3 3 3 3 3 2 3 3 3

How we voted at No. 3 :

Kelly Travis Charlie Allison Kurt Brent Collin Kevin Al Community
Travis Konecny Ivan Provorov Ivan Provorov Ivan Provorov Ivan Provorov Ivan Provorov Shayne Gostisbehere Ivan Provorov Ivan Provorov Ivan Provorov


Previously in Philadelphia Flyers Top 25 Under 25, Summer 2016: