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Wheat Kings' Provorov proving self in North America

by Mike G. Morreale / Columbus Blue Jackets

Defenseman Ivan Provorov of the Brandon Wheat Kings of the Western Hockey League has been described by teammates as a breakout machine.

The 6-foot, 191-pound native of Yaroslavl, Russia, has lived up to that billing in his first WHL season.

"He's good in all aspects of the game," defense partner Ryan Pilon said. "He can take the body and score some highlight-reel goals."

Provorov isn't your typical one-year wonder from Russia having success in North America.

After learning to skate when he turned 5, Provorov played his way up the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl system before deciding to continue his career in North America four years ago. That's when he began perfecting his game on the smaller rinks with the Wilkes-Barre (Pa.) Knights in the Atlantic Youth Hockey League in 2011-12.

"We had to point to the ice and basically tell him to get out there; he spoke no English," Wilkes-Barre hockey director and coach Tom Kowal said. "This is a kid who doesn't even need to speak English to understand what is going on."

The move to play in Wilkes-Barre was one Provorov and his parents thought would serve him best in an attempt to realize his dream of being a top selection in the 2015 NHL Draft.

"I've always said, 'You're never going to want it more than I do,' so if you're going to give me 100 percent I'm going to give you 120 percent, and he made me go above and beyond as a coach because he wanted to be a great hockey player," Kowal said. "I was excited going to work knowing I'd work with Ivan because he appreciated your help, but more importantly wanted to get better every day."

It was in the AYHL where Provorov learned to speak English and hone his hockey skills. He had the aide of assistant coach and Ukrainian-born Alex Vasko during the transition.

"The biggest difference I found right away is that the game is much faster than in Russia," Provorov said. "It's more physical and you have to make decisions quickly; you can't take a second of a shift off here. But I like the physical game."

Provorov had 28 goals and 61 points in 27 games in his first season and had 42 goals and 97 points in 51 games on defense for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Under-16 midget team in 2012-13. It was evident Provorov was determined to take his game to another level.

"I always tell people I have a pretty good career in hockey," Kowal said. "But the thing is, if I did the extra things that Ivan does on the ice I probably wouldn't be coaching but still be playing."

Provorov was selected by the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders of the United States Hockey League in the first round (No. 5) of the 2013 USHL futures draft and had six goals and 19 points as a key member for the RoughRiders in 2013-14.

"It was an awesome first year for me in the USHL," Provorov said. "I got a lot of ice time so I got used to the fast game and good defense in the USHL. That's why I came to North America four years ago; to learn the game and the ice and make an NHL team."

Provorov considered the college route in 2014-15 but instead decided to join Brandon, the team that selected him in the first round (No. 30) of the 2014 Canadian Hockey League import draft.

"His coach in Cedar Rapids [Mark Carlson] spoke very highly of him and felt that at 16 he was the best defenseman on their team and one of their best players, so that's a pretty high compliment for a player of that age at that level," Wheat Kings general manager/coach Kelly McCrimmon said. "His skating was the one area that immediately jumped out at us."

Provorov hasn't missed a beat in his first WHL season; he played for silver medal-winning Russia at the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship and opened some eyes with a solid all-around performance at the 2015 CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game on Jan. 22.

"What's interesting for me with Ivan is as offensively gifted as he is, it's his attention to detail and his motivation to be such a good player in all three zones that makes him special," McCrimmon said. "I think the best part of his game is breaking the puck out and leading a forecheck. He's been a tremendous player."

Provorov was No. 10 on NHL Central Scouting's midterm ranking of the top North American skaters eligible for the 2015 NHL Draft, and finished No. 7 in the final rankings.

"He's very composed with the puck, has excellent vision and knows where everybody is on the ice," Central Scouting's John Williams said. "He has good hockey IQ and takes advantage when he sees an opening both offensively and defensively. He will play a physical game and can separate the man from the puck."

Separating the man from the puck is exactly what Provorov did in the Top Prospects Game in St. Catharines, Ontario. Provorov, who was playing for Team Orr, stopped Team Cherry forward Daniel Sprong of the Charlottetown Islanders of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League at the blue line with a tremendous hit in the first period that led to a goal by Pilon as part of a 6-0 Team Orr victory.

"He's brought a tremendous ability in all aspects," Pilon said. "He's a great skater and really helps me out on the back end. We have good chemistry playing together and we're building toward a championship team in Brandon. So hopefully that's how it turns out. We've been partners since the preseason."

Provorov is determined to play in the NHL and will do whatever it takes. He had an opportunity to star in the Kontinental Hockey League prior to the 2014-15 season after being drafted by his hometown team, Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, in the third round (No. 120) of the 2014 KHL Draft. Instead he for the WHL.

"If this kid wanted to play in Russia he'd be there right now," Kowal said. "He wants to be an NHL player and I feel very confident in saying that."

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