Many people have argued that the top defenceman in the 2015 NHL Draft is actually Brandon Wheat Kings blueliner Ivan Provorov. While he's some way away from surpassing Noah Hanifin in the eye of the public, it's not an outrageous claim.
The 6-foot, 201 pound defender made an impact during his first season as a junior player in the CHL. He led all WHL rookies in scoring with a 15 goal, 61 point season from the back end. He followed that up with two goals and 13 points in 19 playoff games. For his efforts, he earned a WHL (East) First All-Star Team selection at season's end.
Provorov was also a member of Russia's silver medal winning team at the 2015 World Juniors. He was the youngest player on the squad and played a regular shift despite being on the fourth Russian pairing.
The Yaroslavl, Russia native also developed an interesting connection to the Maple Leafs during his time playing hockey back home. Provorov grew up playing against the son of former Maple Leafs blueliner Dmitri Yushkevich, a Yaroslavl native himself, and came to know the family quite well.
With respect to skillset, Provorov projects as a tailor-made two-way defenceman. He skates the puck well and with speed, makes good outlet passes and can quarterback the power play. He has a good, accurate shot which creates a multitude of scoring chances for both himself and his teammates. While he's not a traditional rough and tumble defender, he does have the wherewithal to step up and lay into his man if he catches him snoozing.
The challenges Provorov will face at the next level are typical of most young defencemen. He'll need to learn to attack puck retrieval the same way he attacks opponents with the puck on his stick. There will be other challenges with the speed and structure of the pro game but those are natural growing pains. He has the physical tools and hockey sense to overcome them, provided he is given the chance to develop.
Expect Provorov to be one of the first 10 players selected on June 26.