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.

Future Flyers Report: Still questioning the Morgan Frost draft pick?

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Aaron Bell/CSNPhilly/USA Today Images

Future Flyers Report: Still questioning the Morgan Frost draft pick?

Welcome back to the return of the Future Flyers Report, a weekly column tracking the development of the Flyers’ prospects. This year, we’ll try some new tricks along the way.

We’re nine days out from the Flyers’ season opener, and when preseason ends, it’s expected that a few mainstays of this report from years past will graduate to the NHL. That’s OK. As the Flyers enter their youth movement, we’ll continue evaluating their first-year players with weekly reports on their progress throughout their rookie seasons.

The CHL opened its regular season last week, and international leagues have been underway since earlier this month. As hockey season returns, let’s dig into the future.

Morgan Frost, C, 5-11/172, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)
Think back to draft night in June, when the Flyers traded Brayden Schenn to the Blues and then used the 27th overall pick on Frost. Not many knew who Frost was, and the projections had the centerman as a second-round pick. Fans reacted as such on social media, without ever seeing Frost play. I didn’t know too much about the player when the Flyers drafted him, but all the reports were positive and I immediately thought of the Travis Sanheim draft. It’s too early to say Frost will rise to that level of prospect, but he showed in development camp the hockey smarts and playmaking ability that drew the Flyers to him.

Frost had an explosive start to the season this weekend, especially Saturday night in the Greyhounds' season opener against Oshawa, a 7-4 loss. He picked up two assists in Sault Ste. Marie's loss, but his first helper was a dandy. Frost found Tim Gettinger open in the faceoff circle across the ice, through multiple defenders with a slap-pass and Gettinger finished with the goal. On Sunday night, Frost followed up with a shorthanded penalty shot for his first tally of the season.

It was exactly the type of start you'd want to see from Frost, who was sort of a riser in his draft class. It's his third season in the OHL, and you want to see a leap offensively from him. He got off to a strong start this weekend.

Felix Sandstrom, G, 24, 6-2/192, Brynäs IF (SHL)
One of the Flyers’ top goalie prospects, Sandstrom was expected to miss the start of the season because of a simple laparoscopic procedure, but the procedure was postponed. Sandstrom made his first start Thursday, stopping 29 of 32 shots in Brynäs’ 4-2 loss to HV71. With Oskar Lindblom, German Rubtsov and Mikhail Vorobyev in North America, Sandstrom is the most intriguing international prospect in the Flyers’ system. It’s a safe bet he’ll be the top-selling international flavor of this report this year.

Connor Bunnaman, C, 19, 6-1/207, Kitchener (OHL)
Before the Rangers’ first game Friday against Flint, Bunnaman was named the 53rd captain in Kitchener history, replacing Frank Hora, who is with the Phantoms on an AHL contract. Bunnaman joins Mike Richards (2003-05) and Bill Barber (1971-72) as Flyers draft picks who wore the ‘C’ with the Rangers. Paul Evans, who was drafted by the Kings but later played for the Flyers, was the Rangers’ captain in 1973-74. Bunnaman also played in his 200th career OHL game Friday night, recording three shots and no points in a 5-3 Rangers loss. He was highly effective in the Rangers’ 3-1 win over Sarnia on Saturday night with five shots on goal, his first assist and a plus-three rating.

Anthony Salinitri, C, 19, 5-11/170, Sarnia (OHL)
This is an important season for Salinitri if he wants to earn an entry-level contract with the Flyers. This will be the Flyers’ final season of holding Salinitri’s rights before having to decide to either sign him or let him go. They elected not to sign Sam Dove-McFalls this summer, and Salinitri, a 2016 sixth-round pick, is in a similar situation. There’s no guarantee the Flyers sign him, and he was cut early during training camp. With a 50-contract limit, the pressure is on Salinitri to make a major impact this year in Sarnia.

Salinitri’s 2017-18 campaign didn’t get off to a bad start, though. In his first game Friday night, the centerman scored his first goal of the season and also potted a shootout goal in the Sting’s 4-3 win over the Guelph Storm. He did lose 10 of his 13 faceoffs, however. On Saturday night, against Kitchener, Salinitri was a minus-two with two penalty minutes, two shots on goal and no points. He won two of his five faceoffs in the 3-1 loss.

Pascal Laberge, C/RW, 19, 6-1/162, Victoriaville (QMJHL)
Laberge is another prospect with an important season ahead of him. After dealing with more adversity in 2016-17, this time with concussion issues, Laberge has to put himself back in good standing within the Flyers’ organization. General manager Ron Hextall, while understanding of the situation, made it clear this summer he didn’t like the way Laberge competed at times last season. In training camp, Laberge showed he still has a lot of work to do. Still, the 2016 second-round pick still has plenty time to develop.

I would expect Laberge to have a bounce-back season. In Victoriaville’s season opener Friday night, Laberge was the top-line center. He was held pointless in the Tigres’ 2-1 win over Gatineau, registering three shots and winning 50 percent of his draws. Laberge picked up his first point of the season Sunday night, setting up Maxime Comtois' game-winning goal in the Tigres' 4-3 overtime win over Shawinigan.

Quick hits
• Rubtsov was unavailable for Chicoutimi during the Saguenéens’ opening weekend because of paperwork, according to La Presse. He should play this week.

Isaac Ratcliffe, a hulking 6-6 winger, netted a shootout goal in Guelph’s 4-3 loss to Sarnia on Friday but didn’t register any points in either of the Storm’s first two games.

David Kase, a 20-year-old European prospect who’s playing in the SHL this season, had a goal and assist with three shots in Mora IK’s 5-1 win over Rogle on Thursday.

Olle Lycksell, a 2017 sixth-round pick, has four assists in four games with the Linköping HC J20 team.

Linus Högberg, a 2016 fifth-round pick, has an assist in three games with Växjö (SHL).

Valeri Vasiliev has three assists in four games and is averaging over 17 minutes with Severstal (KHL). Vasiliev, 23, was a seventh-round pick in 2012.

• The Russian goalies: Ivan Fedotov has a 1.92 goals-against average and .905 save percentage in four games with Toros Neftekamsk (VHL). Kirill Ustimenko has a 2.00 GAA and .904 save percentage in six games with Dynamo St. Petersburg (MHL).

Flyers camp notes, quotes and tidbits: Roster chatter, Nolan Patrick's status, more

Flyers camp notes, quotes and tidbits: Roster chatter, Nolan Patrick's status, more

VOORHEES, N.J. — The Flyers play a preseason back-to-back set when they visit the Rangers on Monday, then host them Tuesday.

With such a schedule setup, head coach Dave Hakstol already has two lineups in mind as the Flyers continue their evaluation for the opening night roster. The training camp roster is technically at 29, but with three players injured (Cole Bardreau, Colin McDonald, Anthony Stolarz), it's actually at 26 and must be down to 23 by the Oct. 4 season opener.

The obvious roster hopefuls are forwards Nolan Patrick, Oskar Lindblom, Scott Laughton, Taylor Leier and Mike Vecchione, and defensemen Robert Hagg, Sam Morin and Travis Sanheim.

"Everybody that's here is still in the mix," Hakstol said after practice Sunday at Flyers Skate Zone. "I said it a couple days ago, this is when the competition gets pretty high."

If Sunday's practice combinations are any indication of what Monday's lineup will look like at Madison Square Garden, Travis Konecny, Vecchione, Leier and Lindblom will be extras. They were the four-man rotational line Sunday.

Hakstol said there could be some differences from the groupings Sunday when it comes to Monday's game. However, he does hope to play each bubble player at least one of the two games. So whoever sits Monday is more than likely to play Tuesday.

Eyes on Patrick
Patrick is feeling better and better.

After assisting Shayne Gostisbehere's overtime winner in Wednesday's 3-2 preseason split-squad win against the Islanders, Patrick played 16:50 Thursday in the 2-1 OT loss to the Bruins at TD Garden. The No. 2 overall pick saw some power-play time, had a few shots on goal and a pair of takeaways.

"Last game was the most comfortable I've felt," Patrick said Sunday.

He's now played in three preseason games, as well as the rookie game.

Patrick centered Jordan Weal and Wayne Simmonds on the second unit at practice, a spot which suits his strengths playing between two finishers with a good blend of ways to score.

Look for that line to stick Monday.

"We've only had one game together, but I think Simmer's obviously a top player in the league, he was an All-Star last year, he can put the puck in the net and make plays," Patrick said. "So he's big down low to create space. Jordan's great offensively, he's got a lot of speed, so I just try to play smart and find them when they're open and make plays."

Sound with studs
Hagg has put together a strong camp and preseason.

The 22-year-old defenseman is well-groomed and prides himself on play in his own end. Playing alongside Gostisbehere doesn't hurt, either. It allows Gostisbehere to focus a bit more on producing offensively because Hagg understands his defensive role.

The last two days, Hagg has been paired with Ivan Provorov.

With those two, he isn't complaining and seems to relish being the complementary piece.

"They're pretty good guys to play with," Hagg said.

"I don't mind it. Let them do their job and I'm taking care of the defense, kind of what I did last year, as well. Start getting used to it and I don't have any problems with it.

"I think my best game is in the D-zone, shutting down guys, 1-on-1 battles. And then sure, I can follow up in the game and find some pucks here and there. But my main focus is to be good in the D-zone, take care of that and the rest will take care of itself."

Roster two cents
Vecchione has played only two preseason games thus far and he was among the four-man line at practice. He should play at least one of these games on the back-to-back, but at this point, he looks like he'll start the season at AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley. There just isn't a spot for the rookie forward right now and he won't be on the roster to be an extra man.

Laughton seems to be a safe bet to make the Flyers' roster. He's been playing in the exact role the Flyers are hoping for him and he proved growth to general manager Ron Hextall last season with the Phantoms.

Leier has done everything you'd ask for from a guy fighting for a spot. However, the numbers game likely pegs him at Lehigh Valley to start 2017-18.

Nonetheless, Hakstol has been impressed by the 23-year-old winger, who had a two-goal game Wednesday in the 3-2 split-squad win at the PPL Center.

"It's about playing his role, what his role is," Hakstol said. "Taylor's a responsible two-way forward. When he's been with us, he's played in that third, fourth-line wing type of role, he's killed penalties — that's his chair. He's done a good job of that so far in camp and that's why he's got himself solidly in the mix."

Can't get enough
Weal is always getting in extra work.

Ever since coming to the Flyers in the January 2016 Vinny Lecavalier trade, he is often the first player on the ice before practice even starts. On Sunday, he was the last one off of it with Konecny. Together, the two took in some bonus ice time.

The 25-year-old Weal just loves the rink and it's gotten him from lots of healthy scratches in 2015-16 to what should be a prominent role in 2017-18.

Quotables
"I think they're going to try to stick to it a little bit more. I don't mind it. It's like impossible to cheat now in faceoffs. But some guys, it's kind of a skill to be able to cheat in faceoffs. I don't know, I think they're going to stick to it, and if they do, it's good. Guys are going to be not trying to cheat because you want to stay in the faceoff dot. We'll see what happens."

- Claude Giroux on refs being stricter in the faceoff circle during preseason

"I had quite a few chances that game. Just being able to jump up in the rush at the right times. You're seeing a lot more in the NHL these days that a lot of the offense is being pushed from D-men getting up in the play and joining the rush and creating chances. That's something I've had as a part in my game all the way through my career. I'm just trying to bring that to this level."

- Travis Sanheim on his goal against the Bruins Thursday

Practice lines and pairings

Forwards
Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek (more on this here).
Jordan Weal-Nolan Patrick-Wayne Simmonds
Jori Lehtera-Valtteri Filppula-Dale Weise
Michael Raffl-Scott Laughton-Matt Read
Mike Vecchione-Taylor Leier-Oskar Lindblom-Travis Konecny

Defensemen
Ivan Provorov-Robert Hagg
Brandon Manning-Shayne Gostisbehere
Travis Sanheim-Radko Gudas
Sam Morin-Andrew MacDonald

Current roster breakdown

Forwards (18)
Cole Bardreau (injured)
Sean Couturier
Valtteri Filppula
Claude Giroux
Travis Konecny
Scott Laughton
Jori Lehtera
Taylor Leier
Oskar Lindblom
Colin McDonald (injured)
Nolan Patrick
Michael Raffl
Matt Read
Wayne Simmonds
Mike Vecchione
Jakub Voracek
Jordan Weal
Dale Weise

Defensemen (8)
Shayne Gostisbehere
Radko Gudas
Robert Hagg
Andrew MacDonald
Brandon Manning
Sam Morin
Ivan Provorov
Travis Sanheim

Goalies (3)
Brian Elliott
Michal Neuvirth
Anthony Stolarz (injured)