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Through seven games, Ivan Provorov has rebounded in a big way

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There were a lot of question marks about the 22-year old, but so far this season, he’s answered them.

Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Coming into the 2018-19 season, Ivan Provorov was regarded as without a shadow of a doubt the Philadelphia Flyers’ number one defenseman. The previous season Provorov totaled 41 points in 82 games, and was tied for the league lead among blueliners in goals. Although his play-driving metrics weren’t elite or even good for that matter, they improved drastically when he was paired with Shayne Gostisbehere late in the season.

So when the next season came around, Provorov and Gostisbehere were the sure-fire first defense pairing for the Flyers. Both players were expected to have huge seasons with a full season together, and to put it lightly, we were a tad off on those expectations. Provorov’s point total dipped to 26 despite playing in all 82 games yet again. Point totals can sometimes be misleading in regards to how a player is actually performing, but looking at the metrics it became clear just how poor his season was.

Provorov 2018-19 5v5 On-Ice Stats

Score-Adjusted Corsi For % SA-Corsi Relative Corsi For % RelTM Score Adjusted-Expected Goals For SA-Expected Goals Relative Goals For % PDO
Score-Adjusted Corsi For % SA-Corsi Relative Corsi For % RelTM Score Adjusted-Expected Goals For SA-Expected Goals Relative Goals For % PDO
47.22 -0.67 -2.3 49.63 1.53 45.52 99.05

Simply put, it wasn’t a good season for the 21-year-old. The problem was, there was really no one else who could take the load off him. Travis Sanheim was very good last season, but he was still a second-year defenseman who had some issues in his own zone. The only other truly reliable player on the blue line was Radko Gudas, whose passing issues weren’t the best to pair with Provorov who was suffering through the same issues.

So, what did Chuck Fletcher do this off-season? He acquired two stabilizing forces on defense to lighten Ivan Provorov’s workload in Justin Braun, and Matt Niskanen from San Jose and Washington respectively. Although it took up until the first day of training camp, Provorov signed a six-year extension, committing the Flyers to their 2015 first round pick.

Last season, the Russia native averaged 25:07 minutes a night, which ranked him sixth in the NHL. His company was names such as Brent Burns, Erik Karlsson, Drew Doughty, and Roman Josi. In just his third NHL season, Provorov was being treated like not just a top pairing defenseman, but one of the league’s best. Not only are those base numbers insane, but when factoring in that it was almost a full minute increase from the year before, in which he averaged 24:09.

Already given the minutes workload of a top tier defenseman, Provorov’s matters only got worse factoring in the quality of competition he was facing. From the jump in his rookie season, he’s been among the top 30 defensemen in time-on-ice vs. elite competition according to PuckIQ. The only reason I say “top 30” and not “top five” is because the only year he was outside the top five was his rookie season. Since then, Provorov has ranked fifth and fourth among all NHL blueliners in TOI vs. elite competition.

To be fair, when looking at how much of Provorov’s total TOI was spent against elite competition, he slides down the rankings a little bit. In his rookie year he ranked 32nd in CTOI% (which tracks said stat), 15th in 2017-18, and 23rd last season. Regardless, it drives home the point that Provorov has been expected to carry a tremendous burden on his shoulders since he got here. Oh, and that’s without even talking about his defense partners, but that dead horse has been beaten too many times to rehash.

With all of that being said, how has our prized defenseman looked to start the 2019-20 season? Quite good as a matter of fact. Of course, this is an incredibly small sample size and should not be taken as expecting Provorov to maintain this pace or even improve on it. So far, this is what Provorov has done in seven games:

Provorov basic stats

GP G A P TOI SH% Takeaways Giveaways
GP G A P TOI SH% Takeaways Giveaways
7 2 3 5 23:40 14.3 0 5

Provorov metrics

CF% CF% SVA CF% rel xGF% xGF% SVA xGF% rel CTOI% (vs. Elite comp) CF% (vs. Elite comp)
CF% CF% SVA CF% rel xGF% xGF% SVA xGF% rel CTOI% (vs. Elite comp) CF% (vs. Elite comp)
60.5 59.93 6.09 61.61 61.47 0.15 53.6 65.1

A few things that stand out here: Provorov’s ATOI is down by over a full minute, and his CTOI and Corsi vs. elite competition are quite strong. As mentioned, Provorov has been a workhorse for this team especially over the past two seasons, but with the depth the Flyers have added on the back-end, the reliance on him being that workhorse has diminished. Not only should this help him in the regular season, come the Stanley Cup Playoffs should the team make it, we should see a much fresher Provorov.

Obviously, the metrics are extremely impressive. Not once in his career has Provorov even broke even in Corsi, but this season he’s certainly on a good pace to break that trend. What stands out especially for me however, are those final two stats. His CTOI percentage vs. elite competition ranks third among all defensemen, just behind Zdeno Chara and Charlie McAvoy of the Boston Bruins. Ranking highly in that category isn’t something new for Provorov though, and that’s where the Corsi percentage comes into play.

In 2017-18, his Corsi vs. elite competition was a 47.50 while the best among defensemen was 56.90 by Mark Giordano. Last season, it was 48.80 which to be fair is a sizable increase, but still well behind the league lead in 55.10 by Brendan Dillon (which was quite surprising).

This season, Provorov is second in the league in the category only behind ... Justin Braun? Oh yeah, you read that correctly. Apologies for hating on Braun shall be sent directly to myself or Kelly Hinkle, co-founders of the Justin Braun Fan Club, thank you very much. I’m sorry, where was I?

Right, Ivan Provorov is off to an incredible start this season. Possibly the most impressive aspect of his start however, is the fact his usage really hasn’t changed that much. He’s still facing a heavy workload, and facing top notch competition when he steps on the ice. Not to mention the fact his zone starts are still heavily favoring the defensive zone.

Since his rookie year, Provorov’s offensive zone start percentage has been 45.35, 48.35, and 42.80. One would assume with a significant increase in Corsi and overall underlying numbers, Provorov would have seen at least a small increase in those zone starts. Well, it’s the opposite actually. Provorov’s OZS percentage through seven games is 42.31.

Alright, there’s been a lot of numbers over the course of this but for those who aren’t into that, even by the eye test he just looks like a more confident player. Last season there were so many times where we watched Provorov play and something just seemed ... off. It was especially noticeable when he had the puck and he’d lose it inexplicably, with no one really pressuring him. The breakout in particular was quite rough to watch, as he failed to execute passes on the regular.

This season, he looks like the confident Provorov we saw at times in his rookie season, and for most of the 2017-18 season. He’s skating up the ice with a purpose, making clean breakout passes, and showing an unexpected amount of poise on the power play. I don’t think he’ll ever be a true quarterback on the man advantage, but he seems to be much more comfortable in that role.

How much of this is attributed to the acquisitions on defense? Who knows, it’s far too early to tell if this will even continue let alone single out the causation. It’s seven games but it’s a spectacular seven games for a guy who needed this kind of start. If the Flyers are going to be a playoff team this season and in the future, they’ll need Ivan Provorov to be “the guy” on the back-end. So far this season he has been, and it’s up to him to keep it going.

All statistics are at 5-on-5, and courtesy of Natural Stat Trick and PuckIQ