TORONTO — At training camp last year, Ivan Provorov roomed with Shayne Gostisbehere. This year, he’s hoping to follow the young blueliner’s footsteps and earn a roster spot on the Flyers' blue line.
After playing two games with the Flyers during the 2014-15 season, Gostisbehere joined the Flyers last November and appeared in 64 games, scoring 17 goals and tallying 29 assists. The 23-year-old’s 46 points led all Flyers defensemen and the Florida native finished second to only Chicago’s Artemi Panarin in Calder Trophy voting as the league’s Rookie of the Year.
“He had an unbelievable season [and] he helped the Flyers a lot,” Provorov said this week at the annual NHLPA rookie showcase in Toronto. “I saw him at development camp and main camp — thought he was a great player. He got his chance when he got called up, and he used it well and played his game.”
Provorov, the Flyers’ first selection (seventh overall) in the 2015 NHL draft, has only one option this year: make the Flyers' roster out of camp. Otherwise, because of his age, he’ll have to return to junior and the Western Hockey League’s Brandon Wheat Kings.
This past season, Provorov scored 21 goals and 73 points in 62 regular-season games with Brandon. He added three goals and 10 assists in 21 postseason games, helping the Wheat Kings win the WHL title and reach the Memorial Cup. However, Brandon struggled at the four-team tournament, losing all three games.
For his solid second season in the WHL, Provorov was named the recipient of the Bill Hunter Memorial Trophy as the league’s top defenseman.
“[Memorial Cup] didn’t really turn out the way that we were hoping to, but still a great experience,” Provorov said. “It was a different atmosphere and different tournament, where you have to win one game to get into the playoffs. It’s not like a seven-game series.”
With a second WHL season under his belt, Provorov feels he’s better prepared than he was a year ago to make the leap to the NHL game.
“I should be a little bit more comfortable, I know what to expect,” he said. “I had a great summer and I think I'm a better player than I was a year ago: stronger, bigger, better in all areas of my game. Just looking forward to getting to Philly and starting camp.”
The Flyers currently have seven defensemen under contract for the upcoming season, but Provorov’s combination of size and skill could push a veteran such as Andrew MacDonald, who already spent most of last season with the AHL’s Lehigh Valley Phantoms, out of a job.
Despite his abilities, Provorov knows bumping a veteran for a roster spot won’t be an easy task.
“Of course when you move on from a level to another level the speed increases, the players are stronger [and] bigger,” he said. “I think, for me I'll just try to play my game and compete as hard as I can.”
Provorov grew up idolizing Nicklas Lidstrom and has tried to model his game after the Hall of Famer. At 6-foot, 200 pounds, Provorov has spent his two seasons in Brandon developing into a two-way blueliner, who can put up numbers on the offensive side, but at the same time be counted on in a shutdown role.
The 19-year-old credits his decision to come to North America at such a young age for helping him adjust to the differences in lifestyle. By the time he was 16, Provorov was playing for the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders in Iowa prior to being selected by the Wheat Kings in the Canadian Hockey League import draft.
“I came here when I was really young, so it wasn't that hard of a transition,” Provorov said. “Probably the most weird [adjustment] was probably food 'cause, I mean, food is really different from back home, but now I'm used to both.”
If he does wind up back in the WHL, Provorov has the annual World Junior Hockey Championship to look forward to. At last year’s tournament, Provorov, a native of Yaroslavl, Russia, registered eight assists in seven games, winning a second consecutive silver medal at the under-20 tournament.
“World Juniors is a great tournament, good experience,” he said. “It's always great to represent your country and, this time, if I get a chance to play, hopefully we'll win gold.”