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Philadelphia Flyers 25 Under 25: Ivan Provorov represents the present and the future of the Flyers’ youth movement

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Even with the outstanding young depth the Flyers have accumulated over the past few years, the choice at the top of our rankings was clear.

Kate Frese / SB Nation

Across the past four weeks, we here at BSH have profiled 24 different young players in the Flyers’ organization, and it’s quite a group of talent.

We’ve talked about four different forwards from this past June’s draft — including two first-round picks and another forward who was widely graded like one. We’ve covered the reigning SHL forward of the year, who now seems to be knocking on the door of the NHL. We looked at four different goalies, including one of the best goalies in Canadian juniors and another goalie who may be on the verge of getting meaningful NHL time. We’ve, to date, discussed six different defensemen, of which four of them figure to be fighting for two NHL spots this fall. And we’ve even gone through the recent history of a few already-established NHLers that fans of this team just can’t quite agree on, but who are undoubtedly at least useful pieces at the NHL level.

Fans are very well within their rights to be excited about what’s in store for this organization, with a number of talented young players on the NHL team to go along with what’s arguably the best group of prospects in the league. Obviously, not everyone we’ve talked about here in August is going to reach their potential, and many of them probably won’t reach the NHL at all. But it’s easy to see this team being a contender by the time we’ve reached the 2020s, because there’s almost too much talent here for it not to be.

And yet despite the sheer mass of talent here, the choice for the top spot in our summer 2017 25 Under 25 ended up being a fairly easy one. 10 out of the 11 voters on our masthead picked the same player for that honor, as did around two-thirds of our community voters. And it wasn’t the Calder runner-up from 14 months ago, or the top-ranked prospect in the 2017 NHL Draft, or the best forward in Sweden last year, or the guy who’s already been in the NHL for six seasons. No, it was a 20-year old defenseman with one professional season to his name.

That, more than anything, is a testament to the fact that Ivan Provorov really does have the look of quite a special player.

No. 1: Ivan Provorov

Position: D
Age: 20 (1/13/1997)
Acquired Via: 2015 NHL Draft -- Round 1, Pick 7
2016-17 League/Team/Statistics: Philadelphia (NHL) - 6 G, 24 A in 82 GP
Nationality: Russian
Ranking in BSH Winter 2017 25 Under 25: T-1

From the start of the leadup to the 2015 NHL Draft, in which the Flyers had “earned” the No. 7 overall pick (by being bad in 2014-15), Provorov was by and large the guy that many Flyers fans seemed to zero in on. As it turned out, they were right to do so: reports from before the draft said that the team had him at third overall on their board (behind obvious top-2 Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel), and as soon as the Flyers were on the clock that night in Sunrise, there was no doubt who their pick was going to be.

Pipedreams of Provorov immediately making the Flyers were shot down pretty early into training camp that season, as Provorov was back with the Brandon Wheat Kings by late September. But nothing would happen in the year that followed to slow down the Russian defenseman’s hype machine. In what would be Provorov’s final year in Brandon, he elevated his scoring to well above a point-per-game mark (73 points in 62 games), was named CHL Defenseman of the Year, and perhaps most importantly — according to GM Ron Hextall — avoided “the wall” that he apparently hit at one point during his draft season.

It was an overall outstanding showing from the young defenseman, one that led most to believe Provorov was ticketed for the NHL in 2016-17. As we know, that would prove to be the case, as he had an excellent training camp and not only stuck with the Flyers ended up being the only defenseman on the team to play all 82 games.

A very strong first impression

While it’s tough for young defensemen to grab a big role on a team right away, Provorov pretty quickly established himself as Dave Hakstol’s top option on defense early on in his rookie year. To borrow a chart from our Shayne Gostisbehere profile on Friday, below you can see how much ice time each defenseman on the Flyers was generally getting. By the time December had rolled around, the gulf in ice time between Provorov and the Flyers’ No. 2 defenseman on a given night was often comparable to the gap between the No. 2 defenseman and the No. 5 or even the No. 6 defenseman. Frankly, there was Ivan Provorov — who averaged nearly 23 minutes a night after December began — and then there was everyone else.

Micah Blake McCurdy via hockeyviz.com

That’s a very large amount of responsibility for a very young player — in fact, among rookies since 2005 who were 18 or 19 when they began their rookie year, only Tyler Myers and Drew Doughty played more total minutes in their first season than Provorov did.

Yet, in watching Provorov, it’s plainly obvious why any coach would love seeing him on the ice as much as is reasonably possible. The young defenseman was exactly as mature and poised on the ice as all of the observers that have raved about his play for years said he was. There’s something in his game for everyone to love: he skates well, he can move the puck up ice with ease and is a heck of a passer, he’s quite strong for someone his size, and his mistakes on the puck are few and far between. Real weaknesses are hard to find in him.

And while he did hit a dry spell offensively during the season — he went five weeks in February and March without an even-strength point — 30 points in his first 82 NHL games is a solid mark for a player who did most of that damage at even strength due to the team’s routinely-brutal second power play unit.

Something else you’ll often hear said about Provorov is that he does the little things well, the kinds of things you may not notice at first glance but are crucial to controlling the game while on the ice. The people who specifically look out for these things do notice them, though, and they tend to agree that what Provorov did this past year was impressive. Charlie discussed this a bit in Provorov’s season review back in June, but a look around the league shows just how well Ivan Provorov is faring even relative to his peers around the NHL.

In an otherwise-unrelated article a few weeks ago about Buffalo Sabres defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen, Dom Luszczyszyn (then of The Hockey News) pulled together a pair of charts that looked at the top 30 defensemen in the NHL this past season by total ice time. The first chart looked at how good each defenseman had been at preventing controlled entries into his team’s defensive zone, while the second examined how good each defenseman was at exiting his zone with possession once gaining control of the puck.

By these numbers, Provorov graded out quite well. Only one defenseman among the top 30 by ice time — 2016 Norris Trophy winner Drew Doughty — topped Provorov in both measures, as the 20-year old was in the top quarter of both charts. When you can do a better-than-average job of stopping the other team from controlling the puck in your zone and getting the puck out of your zone once you get control of it, you’re generally going to see positive signs elsewhere on the ice, be they strong goal-based outcomes or at least good shot metrics.

The one elephant left in the room

Which brings us to the big question about Ivan Provorov, the one thing that can give pause to someone taking a deep look into the rookie’s season: where were those positive bottom-line signs at the end of the day? Via Natural Stat Trick, the Flyers were outscored by 10 goals at 5-on-5 with their No. 1 defenseman on the ice, good for a 44.4% on-ice Goals For percentage. And for all of the aforementioned good things he does on the ice, the team didn’t drive shot attempts while he was out; Provorov’s Corsi-For percentage on his rookie season was 49.23% — in a vacuum, not alarming and borderline-respectable for a 19/20-year old rookie, but hardly what you’d expect from a guy that Flyers fans have already mentally penciled into a top-pair role through his prime.

Now, there are some obvious and legitimate excuses for those numbers. The Flyers had some of the worst team-level save percentage and shooting percentage numbers in the league this past season, and that will adversely effect any player’s on-ice goal numbers. Of the team’s seven most frequent defensemen this year, Provorov’s on-ice goals-for percentage was actually the third-best, and only Radko Gudas ended up above the 50 percent mark.

As for the negative on-ice shot metrics, the best guess as of now is that the hit Provorov took there was likely due to his primary on-ice partner in his rookie year. Beginning on December 3 against Chicago and continuing for the remainder of the season, Andrew MacDonald — a player that on-ice play-driving measures have never really been fond of — was almost exclusively Provorov’s defensive partner. And it’s not hard to see the drop-off that ensued from that point (numbers again via Natural Stat Trick):

Ivan Provorov 2016-17 Corsi For %

Measure Beginning to 12/1 12/3 to End
Measure Beginning to 12/1 12/3 to End
Games 25 57
Provorov Corsi-For % 52.50% 47.92%

Now, in MacDonald’s defense, there are certainly other factors at play here. Provorov had just taken on increased responsibility/ice time, and with that comes its own set of challenges. The fatigue of those extra few minutes a night can add up, and the added test of facing top opponents and/or harsher defensive assignments more often — as the team’s No. 1 defenseman typically does — can certainly have an adverse effect on a player’s bottom-line numbers.

But the biggest constant for Ivan Provorov from December onward was the presence of MacDonald as his defensive partner. And when you consider the aforementioned successes that Provorov had in terms of his individual zone entry and exits, one could at least guess — certainly couldn’t prove it with confidence at this time, but could guess — that the biggest factor driving down Provorov’s on-ice performance in his rookie year was that of his defensive partner, and that we could expect a better performance in the future were he to be paired with a different partner.

Something special is coming

Yet for all of the (again, fairly valid) excuses that can be made for Provorov’s rookie season being just-OK by the numbers rather than unquestionably great, in some ways that part of the discussion really doesn’t matter. Nearly every Flyers fan, from the most statistically-inclined ones you’ll find to the ones that could not possibly care less about what the numbers say, is very, very excited about what Provorov’s future holds, because they’ve seen him and know what he’s capable of.

In 2015-16, Shayne Gostisbehere's rookie season was one of the most exciting individual storylines within a Flyers season in decades. Every night was a spectacle, as fans watched with bated breath to see what the kid from Union College would do. It was thrilling, and was the first sign that a new era of young, homegrown defensemen was truly underway in Philadelphia.

Yet with Ghost’s successes, there was almost an implicit understanding that what was happening there wasn’t going to continue forever. That didn’t make it any less incredible as it was happening, but the question still hung over Ghost’s season: “how good is this guy, really, and what’s going to happen when he stops scoring basically every game?” (And sure enough, we started to get an answer to that question this past season.)

The reason that Provorov, whose rookie season successes were by and large a secret to much of the hockey world outside of the greater Philadelphia area, is ahead of the 2016 Calder runner-up (and everyone else) in our rankings is because he represents the best of both worlds. We’ve already seen him handle a lot of responsibility and perform at a very high level on NHL ice, and yet the feeling surrounding him is that this past season was just the beginning, and that his future as a 24-minute-a-night cornerstone of this defense — while all of the other prospects fill in around him — is all but guaranteed.

No one can know that’ll happen for certain, of course. Again, the hard data as of now says there may be a long way to go for him to get there. And we could very well be looking through homer glasses here — in SB Nation’s league-wide 25 Under 25, which has run more or less concurrently with ours this month, not only did Provorov miss out on the top 25, he wasn’t even one of the 10 honorable mentions.

But in watching him, you just know there’s something special here that you can’t really appreciate without seeing it, y’know? Provorov’s maturity, poise, and overall well-rounded skill set are unlike any that we’ve seen from a young defenseman here in a long time, and after seeing decades’ worth of young defensemen flame out in this system, the feeling that we may have one that’s going to stick has this fanbase very, very excited. If this team takes the steps forward that we’re all hoping it does in the next 2-3 seasons, Provorov — as the face of the team’s blueline — could very well be a no-brainer on league-wide lists that he’s currently missing out on.

Despite the fact that he claimed the top spot in these rankings with relative ease, Provorov’s spot here certainly isn’t safe. Nolan Patrick, Ivan’s old teammate and the team’s likely future top-line center, seems like the guy who’s most likely to give him a run for his money between now and the time Provorov turns 25 in January 2022. Konecny and Lindblom, if they turn into real dangerous scoring threats on the wing, could challenge him there as well. Heck, we know how many good defensemen there are on the verge of the NHL — Travis Sanheim and Phil Myers, if everything breaks right in either of their developments, could push Provorov in due time.

But until any of those things happen, and as fun as this whole exercise has been all month, the choice for the top young player in the Flyers’ organization is an easy one. Ivan Provorov is already one of the most important players on the Flyers, and he’s going to be for a long time.

You just know it.

How We Voted For Ivan Provorov

Kurt Al Kelly Allison Jay Charlie Bill Steph Kate Travis Joe Community
Kurt Al Kelly Allison Jay Charlie Bill Steph Kate Travis Joe Community
1 2 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1

How We Voted At No. 1

Kurt Al Kelly Allison Jay Charlie Bill Steph Kate Travis Joe Community
Kurt Al Kelly Allison Jay Charlie Bill Steph Kate Travis Joe Community
Ivan Provorov Nolan Patrick Ivan Provorov Ivan Provorov Ivan Provorov Ivan Provorov Ivan Provorov Ivan Provorov Ivan Provorov Ivan Provorov Ivan Provorov Ivan Provorov

How The Community Voted For Ivan Provorov

Ranking # of Votes
Ranking # of Votes
1 693
2 272
3 40
4 15
5 4
6 0
7 2
8 1
9 1
10 1
11 2
12 0
13 1
14 1
15 0
16 0
17 0
18 0
19 0
20 0
21 0
22 0
23 0
24 0
25 0
NR 1

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Previously on Philadelphia Flyers Summer 2017 25 Under 25: