Philadelphia Flyers

End to End: Expectations for Ivan Provorov in Year 2 with Flyers

End to End: Expectations for Ivan Provorov in Year 2 with Flyers

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.

Boruk
"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.

Dougherty
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.

Hall
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.

Paone
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.

End to End: If Nolan Patrick makes Flyers, where does he best fit?

End to End: If Nolan Patrick makes Flyers, where does he best fit?

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: If Nolan Patrick makes the Flyers, where is he best featured in the lineup?

Boruk
Despite the surge of momentum that led to Nico Hischier going No. 1 overall to the New Jersey Devils, the Flyers were more than thrilled that Patrick fell into their lap. Here's a player the organization and its scouts had seen for two seasons playing with Ivan Provorov when the two were teammates with the Brandon Wheat Kings. Sources connected to the Flyers' organization had told me that Patrick's skill set coupled with his size, leadership and hockey sense had him ranked higher on its draft board than Hischier, who may have a little more of a learning curve when it comes to developing into a solid two-way center.

Patrick should make the opening night roster coming out of training camp with the only concern being his health. Will he have any setbacks from the core muscle surgery he had back in June? Assuming he's with the Flyers, there's absolutely no way he doesn't play center, and it doesn't appear Ron Hextall is willing to experiment. Patrick has played only a few shifts at wing, but even he admitted it's not a position he's too comfortable with.

With that said, where do you slot the rookie when you have Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier, Valtteri Filppula and Jori Lehtera, whom all primarily played down the middle last season. First, I would like to see the two Finns (Filppula and Lehtera) on a line together, with Lehtera at center since Filppula is a more versatile forward. Couturier is the team's best two-way center at even strength, and if he stays healthy, this could be his breakout year (which seems to be the most repeated phrase over the past three years).

So why not experiment a little during the preseason? How about a Jakub Voracek-Patrick-Giroux line just to see how well they could work together? Giroux has been the opposition's bullseye for the past five years and his body has taken a toll as a result. He led the team in 2010-11 with 76 points primarily playing right wing, so this wouldn't be a novel idea for him. The Flyers need to find a way to extend Giroux's career since he's locked up through 2022. I'm not sure the Flyers have entertained the thought, but during the preseason you have very little to lose.

Where Patrick can really assert himself is on the team's second power-play unit that really struggled last season to contribute anything, especially when the top unit was mired in a drought. The natural inclination would have Patrick replace Schenn on that No. 1 unit, but as long as the Wayne Simmonds-Giroux-Voracek-Shayne Gostisbehere combination remains in tact, Patrick would give the second unit a little more firepower.

Dougherty
This one is simple. It's either second- or-third line center or the WHL. He is not playing wing. He will not be in a fourth-line role. It is as clear-cut as that. I'm a firm believer Patrick will be here in 2017-18. I don't see how he doesn't make the team. Where does he slide into the lineup? I see him as the third-line center.

We can get carried away with labels — first line, second line, third line, whatever. It doesn't matter. You need to be able to roll four lines to be successful in today's NHL. The Flyers should be able to do that. Whether Patrick is on the second or third line, it doesn't matter. For the logistics of this discussion, I'll proceed with how I see it playing out.

I believe Couturier will start the season as the second-line center and play penalty kill with Patrick as the third-line center and seeing power-play time. Couturier will still see top minutes against opponents' top lines and be in a role in which he's proven he can succeed. He'll still make his linemates better and score efficiently at even strength. Everyone will be happy.

Patrick will give the Flyers a formidable third line — a line that could see fellow rookie Oskar Lindblom and the veteran Filppula on his wings. Whether Patrick remains on the third line all season long is another question. I can see him moving up to the second line and Couturier taking over as the third-line center.

The point I'm making is this: With Patrick here, the Flyers will be able to roll out four lines with skill on each one centered by legitimate NHL talent. Giroux, Couturier and Patrick is a helluva one-two-three punch.

Hall
It's important to remember if Patrick makes the roster, his presence is big for the Flyers, but it's also significant developmentally for the teenager.

As an organization, you always want to put your players in spots where they have the best chance to succeed. With Patrick, this might be a special case.

So what does he do best and what makes him feel most comfortable?

By those who know him, Patrick has been lauded for his ability to make others better, and it's not just that sports cliché here. Patrick may not be a dynamic goal scorer, but surround him with talent and he'll thrive by augmenting others.

"If he's playing with some skilled guys, he will get them the puck, he will make plays," Patrick's uncle, James, said to CSNPhilly.com in June. "He's shown that he can do that. Certainly, the last three years in the Western Hockey League, put the best players on the ice with him and they will get chances, and chances all night. I think that's what his offensive upside is."

With that said, Patrick should play in a top-six role. Give him the minutes and setting to make a true impact in which he can develop through playing. Giroux is this team's obvious first-line center. Couturier can center the third unit in which there will be greater offensive depth but still the defensive focus.

So for Patrick, I'd love to see him flanked by Jordan Weal and Simmonds. Both are scorers that finish plays and bring a variety of ways to put the puck in the net. The skill sets of Weal and Simmonds complement Patrick's, while the three would compose a nice mixture of size and speed, a tough-to-play-against second line.

The fun thing is the Flyers should have options — much more than before — depending on roster decisions at the end of training camp. How the lines are constructed by Dave Hakstol will be even more polarizing in 2017-18.

Paone
Let's get something out there loud and clear to start this off: You don't fall backwards into the No. 2 overall pick and arguably the most talented player in the draft only to move him out of position and have him basically start from scratch as a 19-year-old in a new position in the best league in the world.

Patrick is a natural center and will be playing center for the Flyers. No questions asked.

OK, now that we have that issue all tidied up, the question now shifts to where Patrick fits into the lineup when it comes to linemates.

Giroux is still the Flyers' top-line center. Couturier is likely slotted in at the second-line center spot. 

You don't take an uber-talented 19-year-old and put him in a fourth-line, defense-based role where his minutes become limited. He needs as much exposure as he can get on the ice.

Those factors above are why I feel Patrick has the third-line center spot sewed up to start the season, granted he's healthy.

It's a good spot for him because it'll give him time to feel out the NHL game and make the coming adjustment period to this level a little smoother because the pressure to produce won't be as great right away as it would be if he were in a top-six role. There is wiggle room to ease in.

Time for another question shift — who plays alongside Patrick on his wings? It's an important question and it's obviously way too early for Hakstol to even tip his cap yet as to what he's thinking for the Flyers' line combos.

But, if we're just spitballing here with the current roster as of Aug. 5, here's what I believe the Flyers' third line could look like: Filppula-Patrick-Michael Raffl.

Having Filppula alongside Patrick gives the rook a veteran presence who's a natural center himself to guide him when on the ice. That's a valuable intangible. In Raffl, you have a veteran who's not afraid to go into the dirty areas and do the greasy work to free things up for Patrick to make plays. Lindblom is another name to watch for Raffl's spot, but having two rookies on the same line may not be an enticing endeavor for Hakstol, knowing the way he operates.

And of course, if Patrick excels while others in the top-six roles meddle, the door is open to moving up the lineup as soon he's proven he's ready.

And don't be surprised to see him on the power play, either.

Flyers sign Morgan Frost, Isaac Ratcliffe to entry-level contracts

Flyers sign Morgan Frost, Isaac Ratcliffe to entry-level contracts

It turns out, the Flyers' offseason isn't exactly over just yet.

The Flyers on Thursday afternoon signed 2017 draft picks Morgan Frost and Isaac Ratcliffe to their entry-level contracts.

Frost and Ratcliffe join Nolan Patrick as the second- and-third draftees from June's draft to sign. Patrick was the No. 2 overall pick, while Frost was the 27th overall and Ratcliffe the 35th.

Hextall ended up trading up to draft both Frost and Ratcliffe, as he selected three forwards in the first 35 picks and two in the first round.

It was the second draft in three years the Flyers had two first-round picks. The other was in 2015 when the Flyers drafted Ivan Provorov seventh overall and traded up to pick Travis Konecny.

Frost was drafted with the first of two first-round picks acquired from the St. Louis Blues in the Brayden Schenn trade. The Flyers will get another first-round pick from St. Louis in either 2018 or 2019.

Some considered Frost to be a reach at No. 27, but the Flyers became enamored with the 18-year-old's hockey sense. During development camp, Frost described himself as a playmaker more than a scorer.

"I think you're always going to see more with more assists than goals," Frost said then.

The Flyers traded three draft picks — the 44th, 75th and 108th overall picks — to the Arizona Coyotes on Day 2 of the NHL draft in order to select the 6-foot-6 Ratcliffe.

Ratcliffe was considered by many to be a late first-round pick. Hextall and his scouting staff liked the winger enough to trade three picks, which the organization values greatly under the current regime, to get Ratcliffe.

The London, Ontario, native scored 28 goals and 54 points in 67 games last season with the OHL's Guelph Storm. He scored twice in five games for Team Canada in the 2017 IIHF Under-18 World Junior Championship.

"I'm a big guy, I think I can play both offensively and defensively," Ratcliffe said June 24. "Really, that full-ice game and playing all areas in the zone. Adding that to their lineup, and being able to maneuver my way into their lineup, being with a lot of those guys … I think I can bring a lot to the table."

With Frost and Ratcliffe signed, the Flyers now have 48 contracts on the books. The limit is 50.