Ivan Provorov Provides Flyers a Timely Reminder of Their Mission

Shayne Gostisbehere laughed in sheer wonderment.

He was talking about 20-year-old defenseman Ivan Provorov.

Gostisbehere, only 24 and no slouch himself on the blue line, was trying to comprehend Provorov's ability, which doesn't quite match the player's age.

"Ivan's game is so mature -- he has no risk in his game, he's just so sound and the way he plays, makes it look so easy and it pisses people off," Gostisbehere said last week with a smile. "But just the things he does is unbelievable. He's awesome to watch.

"He's only 19 or 20 and I'm like, 'This guy makes me look bad sometimes because he's so smooth.' He's a great player. I don't see Provy having any problems next year. If he does, they'll be minor."

Provorov had that type of impact in his first NHL season, one that saw him jump from the junior ranks right to the big boys as a teenager.

How did he fare?

Well, considering he played all 82 games, led the Flyers in ice time at 21:58 per night -- a franchise rookie record -- and took home the Barry Ashbee Award as the Flyers' top defenseman, he acquitted himself just fine.

With the Flyers' failure to make the playoffs and an offseason bubbling with unanswered questions, Provorov is the team's surest bet moving forward -- a reassuring positive about the organization's becoming younger and building through the draft.

"You get a sense of a kid in his draft year," Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said last Thursday at his end-of-the-season press conference. "You watch him and you get a sense of the kid. You start meeting with him up to the draft, meet with his parents, you start to get a sense that this kid is really, really dialed in. Most kids, they're out playing video games and doing this and doing that. Provy, it's like he's 30. He's a very mature kid."

The native of Russia has become the poster child for the Flyers' youth plunge on defense. Two more rookies are likely to carve out roster spots alongside Provorov and Gostisbehere in 2017-18.

"Provy, I hope he's one of the guys next year where young kids come in and watch him," Hextall said. "Kid's a pro."

Last training camp, Provorov convinced Hextall there was no more junior play needed. At 19 years old, Provorov had to either go back to his junior league or make the Flyers' roster.

He made Hextall's decision look easy.

"For a 19-year old defensemen to come in and provide the minutes, the hard minutes, steady play, composure, professionalism -- I mean, it's unique," Hextall said. "He's a special kid in terms of his whole focus in life is hockey. He's 24/7. He watches hockey, he studies hockey, he thinks hockey. He trains a ridiculous amount of time in the summer. He's a hockey player and it's special."

Provorov was quickly anointed to a crucial role on the Flyers' special teams units. He led the Flyers in shorthanded ice time and was Gostisbehere's backup running the power-play point, especially once veteran Mark Streit was traded at the March 1 deadline. Overall, Provorov finished with 30 points -- six goals and 24 assists.

More impressively, the 2015 seventh overall draft pick showed he's a quick study. In his third NHL game, Provorov made an embarrassing tumble and turnover during a 7-4 loss to the Blackhawks at the United Center. Provorov finished a minus-5 that game and was a minus-9 through his first 11 outings.

Those struggles did not last long and the next time he saw the Blackhawks, he scored two goals in a 3-1 win to put his Chicago nightmare in the past.

"I think after 15, 20 games, I started to play my game," Provorov said, "and I think I got better as the season went on, both on and off the ice.

"The guys and the coaches said, and I knew myself, it's a long year. Sometimes you forget about games and then you go back and learn from mistakes and you get better."

Provorov said he learned to make the simple play sometimes instead of always swinging for the home run.

"That was my biggest adjustment," he said. "You can't make the most out of every possession you have. So it probably took a little bit. In juniors, if there was no play, I could have just kept it myself or held onto the puck as long as I wanted to. You can't do that here. All the teams are well-structured and pressured hard."

While Provorov learned, the Flyers did, too.

"I think it's fair to say he's one of the guys we're going to build around here," Hextall said.

And Gostisbehere is looking forward to it.

"You can look at Ivan, and you think he's a young man -- he is, but the way he carries himself, he's a great kid, great player and his game is mature beyond his age," Gostisbehere said. "It's just the swagger these younger guys have. And it's not cockiness at all, it's just confidence and that's the biggest thing."

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