Throughout the offseason, we'll ask questions about the Flyers to our resident hockey analysts and see what they have to say.
Going End to End today are CSNPhilly.com reporters John Boruk, Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone.
The topic: Expectations for Ivan Provorov in Year 2.
"He's the best player I've ever played with by a mile."
That was Nolan Patrick's assessment of Provorov following two seasons of junior hockey with the Brandon Wheat Kings.
There's an indescribable maturity you quickly sense in talking with Provorov, and that mentality carries over onto the ice. Nineteen-year-olds simply don't grasp the speed, the decision-making, the mental grind and some of the other elements that come with being an NHL defenseman. Some of the little things he does are so impressive — for example, his stick work along the boards in separating an attacker from the puck, and at times, he had to bail out his playing partner during times of trouble.
Provorov led all Flyers in ice time, averaging just less than 22 minutes a game. He was a minus-9 through his first 11 games, and then impressively, he started to make the necessary adjustments and proceeded to finish a plus-2 over the final 71 games. By December, Provorov was utilized in all situations and was playing some big minutes. He finished ninth in Calder Trophy voting, which I thought was a little low considering how much he improved (although there were some expected dips) as the season wore on.
So what's a reasonable expectation for Provorov entering his sophomore season and should we have some concern considering the regression we saw from Shayne Gostisbehere from Year 1 to Year 2? I believe Provorov will actually trend in the other direction and elevate his performance this upcoming season. I would expect Provorov's ice time to jump somewhere close to 24 minutes a game and possibly more depending on how the prospects adjust to the NHL.
I think the noticeable improvement in Provorov's game will come on the offensive side. At the beginning of last season, Dave Hakstol was mindful of not giving Provorov too much responsibility as to overwhelm the rookie. He saw very little power-play time, but with the injury to Mark Streit came opportunity, and Provorov seemed right at home quarterbacking the PP unit. Of his six goals and 30 points, only five points came on the power play, where NHL defensemen can really pad the stat sheet. For Provorov, I'm predicting a double-digit goal total while setting the bar at 45-50 points. While that won't put him in the Norris Trophy conversation, Provorov's second season will ultimately prove he is one of the top young defensemen in the league, and within five to 10 years, he will become the Flyers' first $10 million player based on average annual value.
It’s not too often a 19-year-old establishes himself as a team’s best defenseman in his rookie campaign, but that was the case last season with Provorov and the Flyers. Provorov became just the third rookie — Gostisbehere (2015-16) and Norm Barnes (1979-80) — and youngest to win the Barry Ashbee Award as the team’s best defenseman.
Provorov not only entrenched himself as the Flyers’ No. 1 defenseman for now and the future but also was one of the top rookies in the NHL last season despite not posting eye-popping numbers (six goals, 24 assists). He led the Flyers in ice time at 21:58 per night, which was second among all NHL rookies last season to Toronto’s Nikita Zaitsev (22:01). Additionally, Provorov led all rookie defenseman with 2:49 per game on the penalty kill and was 10th with 1:40 per game on the power play. He earned the trust of Hakstol rather quickly and outside of Game 3 of the season in Chicago, he didn’t have any blaring bad games.
So what should we expect from Provorov in Year 2? I’m expecting a huge jump in his sophomore season. Unlike with Gostisbehere — I thought he had the most to lose entering his second season — I don’t see Provorov facing the same dilemma as Gostisbehere. Gostisbehere’s rookie season was unforgettable, and he entered last season with lofty expectations to produce offensively but also had intricacies in his own end that he had to work on. Gostisbehere had a solid second year but not without adversity.
With Provorov, his game is far more mature than his age. His offensive numbers were more than respectable for a first-year player — 30 points in 82 games. There was always a subtle play each game where you would be in awe, whether it was a poke check, blocked shot or a denied zone entry. I think his play will be only stronger in his own end in 2017-18.
As for the offensive numbers, I believe we’ll see a big jump from the 30 points in Year 2. I’m not going to say a Drew Doughty jump — Doughty went from 27 points in Year 1 to 59 points in Year 2 — but somewhere in between. He’ll lead the team again in time on ice, and I wouldn’t be totally shocked if the Flyers were to give him the vacant ‘A,’ either.
I’m expecting a lot from Provorov this season, but I think we all are. I think at this point next year, we’ll be talking about a bona-fide top-pair defenseman. He’s that good.
What was so impressive about Provorov's rookie season was how quickly the 19-year-old adjusted to the NHL level.
If you recall, he had a rough go of it through his first 11 games, a stretch in which he was a minus-9. But the rest of the way, Provorov was excellent. Over the final 71 games, he was everything you want in a defenseman, while putting up 25 points (six goals, 19 assists) and a plus-2 rating. On the season, he led the Flyers in ice time at 21:58 per night — a franchise rookie record.
So what should we expect in Year 2? Could a sophomore slump even be possible?
"I don't see Provy having any problems next year," Gostisbehere said in April. "If he does, they'll be minor."
I agree with Gostisbehere. Listen, Provorov will hit a few speed bumps like any other player, but his game and work ethic really are so mature that struggles don't linger. Once he makes a mistake, seldom do you see him make it again.
If anything, I expect another solid season for Provorov but with some added offense in a greater power-play role. I foresee double-digit goals and around 40 points.
But as long as he continues to shine in his own zone and lead by example for the Flyers' young defensemen, everyone should be happy with this kid in Year 2.
Provorov, in his age 19-20 season, was far and away the Flyers' best defenseman last year in his rookie campaign. He displayed such an impressive two-way game, showcasing his offensive potential while playing shut-down, top-pair minutes against the league's most elite competition. But with all that, he showed a silky smoothness with how he skates with and without the puck and the aptitude to small plays that may go unnoticed.
It really wasn't even close as Provorov snatched the spotlight on the Flyers' blue line last year.
But with such an impressive campaign comes increased expectations in Year 2. Ask Gostisbehere about how that goes and the pressure that can come with increased expectations.
Gostisbehere did indeed suffer the dreaded sophomore slump, which even included numerous benchings. But "Ghost" also had a hip injury that hindered him, especially early on in the year.
Unless something unforeseen takes place, Provorov is coming in healthy. So there's the first main hurdle out of the way.
But with the way he excelled last season, what reason do we have to believe Provorov won't at least match what he did last season with six goals, 24 assists and a team-high 21:58 of ice time over all 82 games last season?
The scary thing is Provorov likely hasn't come close to his ceiling yet, either.
Is a sophomore slump possible? Sure it is.
But knowing all we know about Provorov and how he played last season, the pressure will certainly increase.
But also knowing that he's already the Flyers' best defenseman, I anticipate him to be even better than last season as his game continues to mature in all facets.
The guy will turn only 21 in January. Think about that.