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2016-17 Flyers season review: Ivan Provorov appears to have all the tools

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Ivan Provorov’s rookie season wasn’t perfect, but he showed more than enough to keep fans very optimistic regarding his future.

Kate Frese Photography

Back in September of 2016, there were a long list of players that Philadelphia Flyers fans were excited to see develop. A fully healthy Claude Giroux, for starters. Year two of the Shayne Gostisbehere experience, combined with yet another flashy rookie in Travis Konecny as well. Even the goaltending was something to anticipate, after the duo of Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth had been one of the league’s best in the previous year.

Instead, so many of the storylines that had fans most excited at season’s start ended up playing out as severe disappointments. Giroux struggled through much of the year, as did the goalies. The flashy youngsters had their moments, but their repeated scratchings by the coaching staff has some fans worried that the Flyers are trying to “take the fun” out of the kids.

But one preseason narrative played out exactly the way that fans had hoped it would. Ivan Provorov, taken seventh overall by the Flyers in 2015, not only made the jump to the NHL but also became the team’s most important defenseman by year’s end. As the franchise’s top defensive prospect since Joni Pitkanen, Provorov couldn’t merely be good in his rookie season. He needed to show flashes of the all-situations, big-minutes, top-pair defenseman that the Flyers have lacked since Chris Pronger’s injury. Anything less would have been a severe disappointment.

Talk to Flyers fans today and no one is disappointed with Ivan Provorov. His poise and well-rounded skill set are obvious both to neophyte hockey fans and to the most critical observers of all — Provorov’s own coaches. While young players like Gostisbehere and Konecny incurred the wrath of Dave Hakstol and company at times, the only “punishment” that Ivan Provorov received was more ice time and tougher minutes. He’s quickly become one of the most popular players on the roster, despite having just turned 20.

But were there any cracks in Provorov’s seemingly flawless armor? Surprisingly, the surface-level advanced metrics don’t quite match up with Provorov’s reputation. However, if you dig just a bit deeper, Ivan Provorov yet again looks like a future building block for the Flyers’ organization.

Ivan Provorov

Category Status
Category Status
Position D
Age 20
Contract Status Signed Through 2018-19 for $894,167 per year

Basic Stats

Games Played Goals Assists Points PIM Shots on Goal Shooting Percentage
Games Played Goals Assists Points PIM Shots on Goal Shooting Percentage
82 6 24 30 34 161 3.7%

5v5 Individual Stats

Points/60 Primary Points/60 Shots on Goal/60 Shot Attempts/60 Penalty Differential
Points/60 Primary Points/60 Shots on Goal/60 Shot Attempts/60 Penalty Differential
0.84 0.67 5.00 10.70 -8

5v5 On-Ice Stats

Score-Adjusted Corsi For % SA-Corsi Relative Corsi For % RelTM Score Adjusted-Scoring Chances For % SA-Expected Goals Relative Goals For % PDO
Score-Adjusted Corsi For % SA-Corsi Relative Corsi For % RelTM Score Adjusted-Scoring Chances For % SA-Expected Goals Relative Goals For % PDO
48.92% -3.36% -2.90% 47.86% -3.12% 44.53% 98.2

5v5 Manually-Tracked Metrics

Timeframe Entries/60 Controlled Entry % Primary Shot Contributions/60 Exits/60 Controlled Exit % Turnover % Controlled Entry % Allowed Zone Entry Break-Up % Neutral Zone Score Offensive Zone Score Defensive Zone Score
Timeframe Entries/60 Controlled Entry % Primary Shot Contributions/60 Exits/60 Controlled Exit % Turnover % Controlled Entry % Allowed Zone Entry Break-Up % Neutral Zone Score Offensive Zone Score Defensive Zone Score
First 30 Games 8.05 (4th on defense) 40.98% (2nd) 17.29 (4th) 27.45 (1st) 48.13% (2nd) 22.39% (5th) 55.29% (2nd) 5.77% (4th) 51.88% (5th) -1.39% (5th) -1.83% (5th)
Final 38 Games 10.22 (2nd) 44.04% (2nd) 18.38 (5th) 24.09 (2nd) 55.10% (1st) 18.15% (7th) 59.47% (1st) 6.17% (4th) 52.80% (1st) -8.86% (6th) 0.72% (5th)
All 68 Games 9.32 (3rd) 42.94% (2nd) 17.92 (4th) 25.49 (2nd) 51.89% (1st) 20.10% (2nd) 57.47% (1st) 5.98% (4th) 52.43% (1st) -5.82% (6th) -0.31% (4th)

Ivan Provorov, No. 1 defenseman on the depth chart

Entering the season, it was clear that despite Provorov’s reputation and pedigree, he would not simply be handed a top pair role on the Flyers. He began his rookie year alongside veteran Mark Streit, receiving second pair usage with Radko Gudas suspended and Michael Del Zotto out with injury. Had Provorov struggled, it would have been fairly easy to slide him down to the third pairing for most of his rookie season.

It wasn’t all brilliance from the 19-year old at the start. After quietly impressing in the first two games of his NHL career, Provorov had a disastrous third outing against the Chicago Blackhawks, finishing -5 in terms of on-ice goal differential and gifting the Blackhawks one goal singlehandedly due to an ill-timed fall. But the good far outweighed the bad in the early stages of the season. He finished October with a solid 51.99% score-adjusted Corsi percentage (+0.82% relative to his teammates) and had five assists in ten games. Provorov wasn’t necessarily dominating, but he was certainly holding his own.

November was when Provorov earned the top-pair role that would stay his for the remainder of the season. As Hakstol’s trust in Shayne Gostisbehere (who functioned as the #1 all-situations defenseman in October) started to wane, the coach’s faith in his 19-year old rookie continued to grow. Slowly, Provorov’s share of the ice time distributed among the six blueliners became larger, until he took full control of the No. 1 job around the tail end of the month. It all culminated in his revenge game against the Blackhawks on December 3rd, when he scored two goals in 31 seconds to lead Philadelphia to victory. The No. 1 defenseman job was his to lose at that point, and he had no intention of giving it up. Through the end of the season, Provorov averaged over 22 minutes nightly, easily the Flyers’ most-frequently used blueliner.

Justin Bourne (now an assistant coach with the Toronto Marlies) once argued that convincing one’s coach that you are worthy of heavy minutes should count as a skill. Sure, some players are used in roles not befitting their underlying metrics, but that doesn’t change the fact that in the coach’s eyes, that player is truly the best option for the role. Coaches aren’t easy people to please. And considering the understandable bias that most coaches hold in favor of veterans, it’s not often that a player who begins his season under the age of 20 is able to earn that lofty role.

Just how rare was Provorov’s usage? It wasn’t unprecedented, but he absolutely received a larger role than the average NHL teenage defenseman. Since 2007-08, there have been 36 instances of a defenseman playing at least 60 games (or 75% of the season in a lockout-shortened year) with two years of being drafted. Out of those 36 seasons, Provorov’s 21:58 minutes per game was the seventh-highest, with only Jacob Trouba, Justin Faulk, Jonas Brodin, Tyler Myers and Drew Doughty (twice) topping him.

Teenage Defensemen and NHL Roles

Defenseman Season Age Defense TOI Rank on Team TOI Per Game
Defenseman Season Age Defense TOI Rank on Team TOI Per Game
Drew Doughty 2009-10 Draft+2 1st 24:58
Drew Doughty 2008-09 Draft+1 1st 23:49
Tyler Myers 2009-10 Draft+2 1st 23:44
Jonas Brodin 2012-13 Draft+2 2nd 23:12
Justin Faulk 2011-12 Draft+2 1st 22:50
Jacob Trouba 2013-14 Draft+2 3rd 22:26
Ivan Provorov 2016-17 Draft+2 1st 21:58
Dmitri Kulikov 2011-12 Draft+2 3rd 21:51
Aaron Ekblad 2014-15 Draft+1 2nd 21:48
Aaron Ekblad 2015-16 Draft+2 2nd 21:40
Luke Schenn 2008-09 Draft+1 3rd 21:32
Zach Bogosian 2009-10 Draft+2 2nd 21:24
Victor Hedman 2010-11 Draft+2 2nd 21:00
Zach Werenski 2016-17 Draft+2 4th 20:54
Victor Hedman 2009-10 Draft+1 3rd 20:50
Brandon Carlo 2016-17 Draft+2 3rd 20:48
Adam Larsson 2011-12 Draft+1 3rd 20:37
Rasmus Ristolainen 2014-15 Draft+2 3rd 20:36
Erik Karlsson 2009-10 Draft+2 4th 20:06
Seth Jones 2014-15 Draft+2 3rd 19:52
Ryan Murray 2013-14 Draft+2 4th 19:52
Seth Jones 2013-14 Draft+1 3rd 19:37
Hampus Lindholm 2013-14 Draft+2 3rd 19:25
Michael Del Zotto 2009-10 Draft+2 4th 18:58
Olli Maatta 2013-14 Draft+2 5th 18:29
Erik Johnson 2007-08 Draft+2 3rd 18:11
Adam Larsson 2012-13 Draft+2 4th 18:06
Dmitri Kulikov 2009-10 Draft+1 4th 17:56
Noah Hanifin 2016-17 Draft+2 4th 17:55
Noah Hanifin 2015-16 Draft+1 5th 17:54
Nikita Zadorov 2014-15 Draft+2 6th 17:42
Morgan Rielly 2013-14 Draft+2 5th 17:38
Dougie Hamilton 2012-13 Draft+2 5th 17:07
Luke Schenn 2009-10 Draft+2 4th 16:52
Jakob Chychrun 2016-17 Draft+1 5th 16:40
Erik Gudbranson 2011-12 Draft+2 6th 14:11

Looking at this list, it’s obvious that lots of minutes as a young player doesn’t guarantee the player is destined for “elite defenseman” status. Even looking at those just above Provorov, only Doughty ranks as a yearly Norris contender, though Faulk and Trouba are both very good and Myers and Brodin are useful second-pair blueliners. But there are quite a few truly great ones on this list as well — Hedman, Karlsson, Jones and Lindholm especially stand out.

Basically, this information can be spun in whatever direction that serves your interest. The optimist would say that the last two 19-year old defensemen to receive over 21:30 minutes per game on average were Aaron Ekblad and Jacob Trouba, and both absolutely look like future No. 1’s. A pessimist might counter that there’s nothing stopping Provorov from becoming the next Tyler Myers or Zach Bogosian. In order to determine which path is more likely, let’s take a look at Ivan Provorov’s statistical performance in his rookie season.

Provorov’s advanced metrics nothing special

The fascinating part about Provorov’s advanced metrics is that they don’t match up at all with the local perception of his rookie season. Talk to a Flyers fan, and Provorov showed more than enough to be penciled into the team’s top pair for years to come. But an outsider who hasn’t watched Provorov for 82 games could easily glance at his metrics from the 2016-17 season and come away with the impression that he had a decent rookie year, but one that came with some legitimate red flags.

Let’s start with the undeniable positives. As an even strength scoring defenseman, Provorov ranked 70th among blueliners (with at least 300 5v5 minutes), holding a strong 0.84 Points/60. He jumps even further up the list when taking secondary assists out of the picture, moving to 32nd in Primary Points/60 at 0.67. Essentially, the 20-year old scored like a first-pair blueliner at even strength, illuminating his offensive potential.

His play-driving rates were less impressive, however. Provorov’s 48.92% score-adjusted Corsi percentage was sixth among regular Flyers’ defensemen, and his relative stats lagged behind his peers as well. In Corsi Relative, which measures the team’s performance with Provorov on the ice versus the bench, he checked in at -3.36%, meaning the team performed 3.36 percentage points better in terms of Corsi when he sat. Corsi For% RelTM (which is more of a super “with or without you” metric) told a similar tale, as Provorov posted a -2.9%, showing that his teammates were nearly three percentage points better in play-driving when away from Provorov. Provorov’s performance by weighted metrics were better, but still nothing special. His 48.40% on-ice Expected Goals rate seems worse than his Corsi at first glance, but since it came with a -1.37% xG Relative, it’s more in the realm of decent. Regardless, it’s still lower than most would expect.

The on-ice goal results fell in line with these metrics, as the rookie’s 43.8% Goals For percentage certain won’t win him any fans from the plus/minus devotees. In any case, in not one of these on-ice metrics does Ivan Provorov grade out as special. The Flyers quite simply performed worse with Provorov on the ice in his rookie season than they did with him on the bench.

The MacDonald factor

The play-driving metrics do miss one major mitigating factor that may help to explain Ivan Provorov’s poor performance — Andrew MacDonald. As I broke down two weeks ago, MacDonald’s results by the raw on-ice metrics have been awful for years, and his weighted metrics (while better) have been merely below-average. It makes sense that any player who spent just a little time alongside Andrew MacDonald would see his numbers negatively impacted to a degree.

Ivan Provorov spent far more than “just a little time” with MacDonald in 2016-17.

Out of his 1356 minutes at 5v5 this season, over 823 of them occurred on a pairing with MacDonald, or more than 60% of his total ice time. The duo was put together by Dave Hakstol in late November and quickly became the team’s top pair, taking the most minutes and the toughest shifts on a nightly basis. And aside from some late-season lineup experimentation, the Provorov-MacDonald duo stayed together for the better part of four months.

Unsurprisingly, Provorov performed far better from a play-driving standpoint away from MacDonald. In those 823:11 minutes with him, Provorov posted a ghastly 46.9% Corsi For percentage, but was a strong 52.4% away from him. That’s the difference between a rookie season universally viewed as a success by the advanced stat community, and one viewed with justified skepticism.

So why did the pairing stay together for so long? Even their on-ice goal differential together (44.9%) was terrible by the end of the season. My guess is that it just felt like the most logical fit at the time it originated, and then Dave Hakstol stuck with the pair after riding it through the entirety of the team’s ten-game winning streak in November and December. The Provorov-Streit duo had worked from a Corsi standpoint (55.2%) but bled goals against in their short time together. Michael Del Zotto was a mess in November, Brandon Manning just isn’t very good, and Shayne Gostisbehere was quickly sliding down the depth chart at the time.

That did leave one other logical choice as Provorov’s partner, but for some reason, Hakstol only gave Radko Gudas three games with the rookie defenseman before turning to MacDonald in that role. It’s not as if Gudas and Provorov dominated together (45.8% CF%, 60% GF%), but putting a talented youngster with the best play-driving blueliner on the team seems like the recipe for a solid first pair over the long-term, at least on paper.

That wasn’t the direction that the Flyers chose to go in 2016-17, however. Instead, they stuck with a pairing that clearly wasn’t working, and made it very difficult to prove via the numbers that Ivan Provorov truly has elite potential.

Manually-tracked stats love Provorov

Difficult, but not impossible. Luckily for Flyers fans, Corey Sznajder of The Energy Line was able to track 68 Philadelphia games this season, recording individual zone entries, zone exits, and passing sequences for every player. This allows us to evaluate multiple aspects of a player’s skillset, and determine if the eye test is supported by the time-consuming process of counting each event in a game.

When it comes to Ivan Provorov, they reveal very few holes in his game.

Montreal Canadiens v Philadelphia Flyers Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Let’s start with his play in the defensive zone. We already know from our evaluation of MacDonald back on May 26th that Provorov performed admirably in suppressing shot quality by opponents in the defensive zone, ranking second among Flyers defensemen in On-Ice xG Allowed Per Shot Attempt since 2014-15. But that only gives us a look at his play without the puck. Zone exit tracking, on the other hand, tells us how well Provorov performed in the defensive zone with the puck on his stick.

In the 68 games tracked, no Flyers blueliner was more effective while handling the puck in his own end than Ivan Provorov. His Controlled Exit rate of 51.89% led the defense, meaning that over half of the times that he controlled the puck with the goal of leaving the zone, he was able to move it into the neutral zone either by carrying it out himself, or by cleanly passing to a teammate. Just as important, Provorov avoided turnovers, posting a 20.10% Failed Exit rate that ranked second among Philadelphia blueliners. Basically, Provorov was regularly making high-difficulty plays in the defensive zone with the puck while still limiting mistakes. That’s the ideal combination.

Provorov also stood out in the neutral zone. When directly attacked on the rush, the 20-year old allowed controlled entries 57.47% of the time, the lowest rate among Flyers defensemen. His ranking in terms of entries that he broke up entirely — 5.98% and fourth on the defense — was more middle-of-the-road, but Provorov forced a high amount of dump-ins from the opposition. That’s a testament to his tight gaps in the neutral zone and natural aggressiveness. His play in the middle of the ice with the puck was also impressive, as his 42.94% Controlled Entry rate into the offensive zone trailed only Shayne Gostisbehere on the Flyers’ blueline.

It’s particularly impressive that Provorov beat out Gostisbehere both in zone exit efficiency and neutral zone defense, since those were two of Ghost’s biggest strengths in his rookie year. Even accounting for the fact that Gostisbehere struggled at times this season, it’s notable that Provorov came in and outperformed his peer in two of his best areas, while providing the sound in-zone coverage that Ghost can sometimes lack.

But the most reassuring statistic originating from Corey’s tracking is Provorov’s Neutral Zone Score. NZS is a way of measuring what a player’s Fenwick (on-ice unblocked shot differential) would be assuming league-average outcomes in the offensive and defensive zones. It only looks at the zone entries that occurred for both teams on the player’s watch. The reason why it has been proven an important statistic is simple — it’s subject to less randomness than offensive zone shot creation or defensive zone shot suppression. If a player has a strong Neutral Zone Score, that’s a repeatable skill and a strong bedrock upon which to build positive play-driving results for years to come.

Despite Provorov’s poor Corsi For percentage in 2016-17, his Neutral Zone Score of 52.43% (in the 68 games tracked) led the Flyers’ defense, even topping that of Radko Gudas, who was an advanced stat monster this year. Even more reassuring is the fact that he finished strong, posting a 52.80% NZS over the final 38 games of the season, even while playing alongside Andrew MacDonald.

Now, the statistical picture surrounding Ivan Provorov appears far sunnier. Manually-tracked metrics present a player with very few measurable holes in his skillset, and the most important component of his play-driving ability appears to be where he was at his best in his rookie season. Suddenly, Provorov looks like a do-it-all blueliner ripe for a big step up in underlying performance in his sophomore season, so long as he’s paired with a better defenseman as his partner.

Will Provorov live up to fans’ expectations?

Ever since he was drafted in 2015, Flyers fans have been mentally placing Ivan Provorov on the team’s future top pairing for the next decade, and his impressive rookie season did nothing to change that phenomenon. Within two months, he had convinced the Flyers coaching staff that he was worthy of moving atop the team’s depth chart, a rare honor for a teenager in the NHL. While Provorov’s on-ice shot differentials at 5v5 were nothing special, he showcased legitimate scoring potential at evens, and proved adept at basically every single skill measured by Corey Sznajder’s tracking project. He’s a defenseman with no obvious weaknesses in his toolbox.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that he’ll hit his ceiling, however. Development curves are often unpredictable, as Shayne Gostisbehere quickly discovered in his sophomore season. Some bad luck or injuries could always derail Provorov — he’s not a sure thing because no player truly is one.

In addition, we can’t fully rule out the possibility that the advanced metrics are picking out a weakness in his game that hasn’t yet been identified via the eye test. Cam Fowler, for example, has always graded out well by manually-tracked statistics yet never has been able to establish himself as a strong play-driving defenseman relative to his teammates. Even away from MacDonald, Provorov was merely strong from an advanced statistical standpoint, not transcendent. It’s not impossible that all of Provorov’s plus tools may not coalesce into a truly great NHL defenseman.

If there is one issue that might hold back Provorov in the future, it’s his ability to facilitate offensive shot creation. MacDonald effect notwithstanding, Provorov’s teammates averaged 59.96 shot attempts per 60 away from him and only 53.20 with him this season.

At times, Provorov did seem to play a conservative, slow-it-down style with the puck, which could have contributed to the relative offensive weakness, and his Primary Shot Contributions/60 (17.92 and 4th on the defense) was more middle-of-the-road than standout quality. I’m not terribly concerned about his defensive play, as his relative shot suppression metrics were actually all positive despite his massive amount of time spent with MacDonald, but shot creation was a legitimate issue with Provorov on the ice. It’s at least something to keep an eye on moving forward.

Still, I believe the most likely outcome is that Ivan Provorov truly is on the road to becoming an impact defenseman at the NHL level. He took more risks as the season progressed, and I’d expect to see his offensive results bloom next season so long as he’s away from MacDonald. I do believe that was the main cause of his poor Corsi performance.

As for the rest of his skillset, it’s exciting to think that he might get even better at zone exits and neutral zone defense as he gains more experience and learns the idiosyncrasies of his opponents and the league at large. He already seems to have the defensive side of his game down, which usually is the hardest for young players to grasp.

The sky remains the limit for Ivan Provorov. Regardless of whether the Flyers’ retooling process leads them back to the promised land or sputters due to key veterans in decline and prospects not reaching their ceilings, it should be a blast to watch Provorov develop over the next few seasons. He’s certainly not going anywhere.


All stats courtesy of Corsica.Hockey, Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com, NaturalStatTrick, NHL.com, or the manual tracking work of Corey Sznajder at The Energy Line. On-Ice data derived from Corey’s manually-tracked metrics courtesy of Muneeb Alam.