There was a lot of uncertainty for the Flyers heading into the 2019-20 season. New coaching staff, new acquisitions, young players stepping into bigger roles, players with new contracts, but one of my questions was: How will Ivan Provorov follow-up his 2018-19 campaign?
In his first two seasons as a pro, one thing was abundantly clear: Provorov was going to be their #1 defenseman for years to come, and it wasn’t an overstatement. He combined for 23 goals and 71 points in his rookie and sophomore campaigns and was undoubtedly the best defenseman to patrol the Flyers blue line in years. Even at a young age, he played with such poise that it looked like he had been in the league for a decade. This is what made the fall in 2018-19 so confusing.
It isn’t news to anybody that Provorov had a huge drop off last season. His points totals plummeted, he frequently lost battles and he didn’t seem confident with the puck and with his decision making. The down year may have been a blessing in disguise for the Flyers, as contract talks were heating up and there were some obvious question marks in regards to the youngsters’ value. Not to mention the entire summer was a waiting game for RFA’s and guys like Zach Werenski and Charlie McAvoy were in the same position as Provorov.
Fast forward to September of 2019, Chuck Fletcher inked Provorov to a 6-year contract worth a total of $40.5 million (a $6.75M AAV). After hearing the rumors that he was originally asking for $8 million, this was definitely a welcomed contract. His comparables, Werenski and McAvoy, signed for a shorter term, so it was nice to see Fletcher go the long term route.
Now it was up to the young Russian to prove he was worth it.
For anyone who regularly watches the Flyers, it was safe to say he was back to his old self. He was casually playing 24 minutes a night on average, producing at a solid pace, shutting down some of the top players, being physical and his decision making was much better than previous years (i.e. knowing when to jump into the play). Here are a few examples:
Provorov was also rewarded with some time on the power play, which nearly sparked a war between the fans and the advanced analytics crowd. I thought Provorov did a fairly decent job on the man advantage, but it shouldn’t be his spot. He could use a rest from all the ice time he gets at even strength and on the penalty kill and the Flyers have two great alternatives with Travis Sanheim and Shayne Gostisbehere.
That being said, he led NHL defensemen in power play goals and tallied nine power play assists, so even though statistical models will indicate he isn’t great on the power play, the actual results (for now), say otherwise. He was getting his shots through and in my opinion, did not hurt the Flyers power play as much as some think he did.
Throughout his career, he’s always been good at exiting and entering the zone with possession. Another one of his strengths is rushing the puck up the ice and hitting the open man with a precise pass.
His game is still a work in progress, but there isn’t a doubt in anyone’s mind that Provorov is a top-pair defenseman and he was having an outstanding season before the stoppage. He was on pace to best his career high of 41 points by one while logging monster minutes in all situations. Only Thomas Chabot, Brent Burns, Roman Josi and Drew Doughty have played more minutes than Provorov this season.
Provorov also thrived at 5 on 5. The addition of Matt Niskanen did wonders for him and it showed. The pair played over 900 minutes together at 5v5 this season, posting a 51.96 CF% and shutting down the opposition on most nights.
There were some doubts about Niskanen’s spot in lineup since he was coming off a horrible year with Washington, but his defensive style really helped out. Because of it, Provorov was able to play his game by rushing up the ice, making good plays with the puck and did not have to worry about his partner blowing his coverage or making mistakes. The pair was not perfect, but they’ve been the two main pillars that hold the defense together and helped with the overall success of the team.
Provorov turned just 23 back in January and in year one of his brand new contract, he is proving to be worth the money. His game will continue to grow as the years go by, which is a scary thought considering how dominant he can be. Who knows what his ceiling is and what he could become?
Brandon Murphy (@2murphy8)