Perhaps more than any other Philadelphia Flyers player, the 2020-21 season brought a lot of pressure to perform for Ivan Provorov. After years of being saddled with poor partners and producing weak underlying numbers, Provorov posted the first legitimately great season of his career in 2019-20 alongside veteran Matt Niskanen.
As has been well documented, Niskanen decided to hang up his skates this offseason leaving a huge void on the top pair alongside Provorov. Many believed this to be the year that Provorov would take another leap in development and cement himself as the Norris Trophy caliber defenseman that he had shown flashes of being.
Perhaps we should pump the brakes on that fantasy, for now at least.
Let’s start with the positives. First off, Provorov is logging more minutes per game (25:17 TOI/GP) than he ever has in his career which shows how much the coaching staff trusts him. As a 24-year-old playing against the best talent on a nightly basis it’s extremely impressive to be logging such heavy minutes.
Provorov also leads the Flyers backend in points with 12 (3 goals, 9 assists) in 24 games. A respectable rate in line with his career average points per game. That’s about as far as positives go for Provorov though.
Let me preface the following by saying he has had a rotating cast of partners so far this season, none of which are truly suited for a top-pairing role at this point in their careers (Justin Braun, Philippe Myers, Shayne Gostisbehere). On top of that, the entire team has floundered in terms of play-driving results so take the following with a grain of salt.
Provorov’s poor underlying numbers have returned in full force with a 45.42 CF% and a 47.05xGF% at 5v5. In other words, he’s getting absolutely buried at even strength, not ideal considering how many minutes a game he plays.
Whether this is a result of the team’s poor play on the whole or something inherently wrong with Provorov’s game remains to be seen. To my eyes, there have been defensive lapses, specifically alongside Gostisbehere, but on the whole, Provorov has generally looked solid.
Where his results have really cratered is on special teams. He ranks first on the team in shorthanded TOI (3:01 per game) on a penalty kill that currently ranks 25th in the league and has been regularly victimized.
With Provorov on the ice at 4v5, the Flyers are allowing 64.14 Shots Against per 60 minutes (SA/60) and 7.91 Expected Goals Against per 60 minutes (xGA/60). For reference last year when the Flyers ranked in the top half of the league on the penalty kill they allowed only 45.77 SA/60 and 6.71 xGA/60 with Provorov on the ice.
It isn’t that the entire penalty kill is responsible either. Travis Sanheim has the second most shorthanded TOI among defensemen but has allowed only 47.49 SA/60 and 5.93 xGA/60. The Flyers are allowing more volume and more high-quality chances by a large margin with Provorov on the ice in these shorthanded situations.
His power-play work hasn’t fared much better. After playing on the top power-play unit and potting 7 goals last season – tops in the league among defensemen – Provorov hasn’t scored a single goal on the man-advantage and has lost his spot on the top unit altogether.
In truth, the power play never truly looked dynamic with Provorov quarterbacking it. Its value was derived totally from him utilizing his dangerous wrist shot to put pucks on the net through traffic and create havoc. When those shots are finding twine things look great; when they aren’t going in Provorov isn’t a dynamic or creative enough puck-mover to make up for it. The power play, while still struggling, has looked more dangerous when running through Gostisbehere or Erik Gustafsson.
So how harshly does Provorov get graded? On one hand, he’s a minute-eater on one of the best teams in arguably the hardest division. He’s also producing an adequate amount of offense at 5v5 as a 24-year-old playing the hardest position outside of goaltending.
On the other hand, he is posting some truly ugly underlying numbers and has directly contributed to the struggles of both special teams units. When viewed alone Provorov’s results this season are decidedly “meh”; when seen through the lens of what people expect him to be, they look even worse.
There were expectations for Provorov to be able to carry the top-pair to respectable results regardless of his partner ala other Norris Trophy winners such as Victor Hedman or Drew Doughty. At this point in his career, Provorov is simply not dominant enough to pull that off; he needs a partner capable of handling top-pair duties alongside him to unlock his full potential. Precisely why the Flyers will be players in the Matthias Ekholm sweepstakes.
That isn’t to say that he can’t become that player at some point, he still has a lot of time to learn and grow. Some defensemen don’t peak until they’re close to, or even over 30-years-old; Mark Giordano just won his first Norris trophy in 2019 at the ripe age of 35.
I can’t in good conscience ding Provorov for not living up to expectations that are unattainably high, players like Hedman and Doughty don’t grow on trees after all. That being said, as far as this season goes the Flyers need more from him to become the contenders they believe themselves to be.
This article utilizes and references advanced stats. You can learn about the basics here.