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GREENBERG: Minute Man

A look at Ivan Provorov and his workload in his rookie season

by PhiladelphiaFlyers.com @NHLFlyers

A boy against men, Ivan Provorov is 70 games into his rookie season and showing no sign of fatigue. Hit the wall? On the contrary, Provorov was the wall the Penguins hit Wednesday night during his season-high 27:17. These are Mark Howe-Drew Doughty minutes for a just-turned 20-year-old.

"Hard minutes as well," said head coach Dave Hakstol. "In terms of some of the heavy matchups that they've had to handle, five-on-five, [Andrew MacDonald] and Provy has been a good pair.

"He gets up after the extra minutes on the power play, right back on the power play. That's his approach: Next job at hand, shift to shift and, after games and in between, he does a very good job of evaluating things and working to get better."

Provorov has had just one abject clunker-the minus five in Chicago in the season's third game. Thursday night's minus three-one of them into the empty net in the 6-2 loss at Newark-was only the second time this season he had been more than minus-two, bringing his number of contests worse than minus-one to just eight. 

Considering he plays against the opposition's top lines, for a team third from the bottom of the NHL in five-on-five goals scored, the minus-11 for the season actually is a reflection of his consistency.

 

 

Forwards Auston Matthews and Patrick Laine are going to run away with the Calder Trophy balloting. Another rookie defenseman, Zach Werenski, taken one pick behind Provorov at No. 8 in the 2015 draft, also has been a first-pair guy (with Seth Jones) at Columbus. But considering how few games the Flyers have secured by midway through the third period, you can argue that there has not been a rookie that has had more thrown at him than Provorov.

He has handled everything so well that it has been taken for granted, when actually it should be considered astonishing. If maturity could be quantitatively analyzed, Provorov's numbers would be off the charts.

"He's very dedicated to the game, at a young age very focused on what he has to do." said Andrew MacDonald, his defensive partner most of this year. "He does a lot of great things off the ice that helps him on the ice as well; obviously he is in tremendous shape."

Knock wood, Provorov hasn't missed a game his rookie season, in part a measure of a powerful torso and a knowledge beyond his years in how to protect himself. The best way to do that is to get rid of the puck quickly, but even one-on-two, he at least gets a standoff until help arrives.

The kid makes the odd mistake up ice, but watch how quickly he recovers, with almost Howe-level acceleration. Defending the front of the net, Provorov's stick positioning is the best the Flyers have had certainly since the heyday of Kimmo Timonen and maybe since the salad days of Eric Desjardins. The rookie's decision making is outstanding, on the way to becoming impeccable.

Watch carefully. Prodigy at work.

"He has a lot of deception that, quite frankly, most people don't see; only the guys on the ice," said GM Ron Hextall. "There are a lot of subtleties.

"He is not afraid to make a mistake and, when he does, he's not afraid to make a second one. That's mental toughness. To have that at 20 is unique."

Thursday night against the Devils, Provorov flubbed a wrap-around attempt and gave away a goal. Next shift, he took the puck up ice, but, of course, only after a quick and flawless survey of all 10 skaters. He reads the play like he's been in the world's best league for 10 seasons and to MacDonald is an open book.  

"There are times you don't have time to check to see where your partner is and he's always where he is supposed to be," said MacDonald. "That makes a huge difference in a pairing.

"His positioning is excellent. Stick position is huge as well, and he uses a longer one to break up plays and help him handle the puck.

"He's not the tallest guy, but he's pretty wide, quite thick, with great leg strength,

He is able to recover, hold off a guy, wait for some help and then move the puck. That's difficult to do, holding off two guys and two sticks. But he's strong enough to put somebody on his back and shield the puck.

"The whole game for a defenseman used to be that if you don't get noticed you are doing your job. Now the position has evolved a bit and defense has to be more involved in the offense. But if you zero in on him and watch the things he does defensively during a game, it's textbook stuff."

The only thing average about Provorov is his slapshot. Considering he is still years from his physical peak-and his dedication to erasing flaws-the mph should rise over time. Experience and hockey IQ increasingly will get more pucks through.

"He's good at pulling and shooting, a big thing in today's game because guys are in the lanes and so good at blocking," said MacDonald. "You got to get it around them. Maybe he could use some more work with the slapshots and one-timers but that's going to come.

"Look, anything you can find wrong with him is nitpicking."

He is well on his way to becoming the first tireless, game-controlling, defenseman Philadelphia has had since Chris Pronger's career ended prematurely in 2011. Provorov has a different body and temperament than No. 20, of course. Perhaps a better-projected prototype is Chicago's Duncan Keith.

"Keith has won three Stanley Cups," frowned Hextall. "I don't like comparing any kid to a proven player. I'd just say Ivan is a very good young player and it's hard to find a hole in his game. For a 19 year old to make as few mistakes as he made this year, that's unusual. I find myself startled when he makes a mistake. Like, "Did I just see that?'. He is a smart player. And he's going to be here for a long time."

Year One of the Provorov era is winding down with Flyer playoff hopes fading, a shame for many reasons, among them the experience Provorov would have gotten in the post-season. But in the long run, no one is going to remember 2016-17 as a disaster. It was the year they broke in Ivan Provorov.

In 2007, the previous time the Flyers had a high pick that gave them a primo chance at a franchise player, they lost the lottery and Patrick Kane. In 2015, when the first six teams selecting in one of the best drafts ever left Provorov to the Flyers, their luck evened out.

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