It isn’t a controversial statement to say that Ivan Provorov is a legitimate #1 defenseman in the NHL.
Even if one disagrees with this assessment of the 24-year-old Russian, he is, beyond shadow of a doubt, the #1 defenseman for the Flyers, in terms of both ability and usage. Provorov has so far averaged 26:00 minutes of ice-time per game (19:11 at 5-on-5), which only places him behind Erik Karlsson, Drew Doughty, and Brent Burns’ ATOI. Additionally, with the struggles the Flyers’ defense has seen this season, Provorov has, by many accounts, been one of the only bright spots in a disappointing black hole of a blue line.
That assessment leaves one main question: just how good has Provorov been this season? Comparatively to his teammates, the unequivocal response, even without critical evaluation, would be head and shoulders above the rest. Even the mention of the names Erik Gustafsson, Robert Hagg, and Justin Braun leaves many Flyer fans shuddering at the thought of yet another in-zone turnover. So, therefore, to be one of a select few defenseman who rarely does this would elicit a smile, or more appropriately a sigh of relief, along with praise.
A more in-depth and critical consideration of the “eye test” reveals similar opinions, though it is important to note that Provorov’s play has been far from perfect. Defensively, he is harder to measure, as overall defensive contributions are harder to measure than offensive contributions, but Provorov has, as previously detailed, been one of the more effective defenseman at playing defense. From purely observation, he has been positionally solid, rarely gets caught out when he pinches, and has proven to be more effective at breaking up opposition rushes in the neutral and defensive zones. He’s very much been an effective two-way defenseman, and when paired with Travis Sanheim in particular, allows Sanheim to be more expressive offensively, which only helps Provorov himself when he becomes more involved with offensive zone play.
Offensively, Provorov so far has scored two goals, and has seven points in thirteen games. Per sixty minutes played at 5-on-5, Provorov carries a 0.31 expected goals (overall, a 1.91 expected goals adjusted for shooting talent), and is shooting at a projected 10.6% above average. This speaks to Provorov’s greatest offensive strength: he is driving goal-scoring. His Goals-For sits at 55.00% at 5-on-5, second among Flyers defensemen that have played in 10+ games. Provorov has also taken the fourth highest amount of shots at all strengths, and he is getting shots away not only from his left point position, but from in the high slot as well and from the circles, showing just how involved he has been offensively.
However, interestingly, Provorov is not driving play and possession positively. In fact, he is dragging the Flyers down at 5-on-5. As detailed in a prior article, the Flyers as a collective have failed to effectively drive play. Yet, Provorov’s placement in relation to his teammates was an unforeseen observation.
Taking away Nate Prosser and Sam Morin, who each have only played one game, Provorov sports the worst Corsi-For percentage of any Flyer skater at a dismal 39.49%. He fares slightly better if we only take Fenwick into account, where he places above Oskar Lindblom, yet for a bonafide #1 defenseman who many agree has been solid this season, such statistics betray that portrait painted of him.
In the end, the Flyers as a whole are underperforming quite spectacularly from a Corsi perspective, so to expect Provorov to suddenly swim upstream from the rest of the team’s trends would be an unrealistic expectation. Additionally, and most importantly, the Flyers are finding ways to win in spite of what some may call improper process. Should Provorov’s and the team’s play-driving statistics be a cause for concern? Yes. However, with time they should improve, and as long as the team are winning, such transgressions against statistics can be forgiven.
Stats courtesy of Natural Stat Trick