Perhaps because he has been elite for so long, it seems bizarre that Ivan Provorov may end up back in junior this season. Unfortunately, that's a possibility for the 19-year-old defenseman thanks to the pact between the CHL and NHL. Though he's Russian-born and raised, Provorov was drafted seventh overall out of WHL Brandon in 2015 and therefore cannot go to the AHL yet.
But if he plays as well at Philadelphia's training camp as he has up to now, none of that will matter because he'll be in a Flyers uniform come autumn.
The Flyers are flush with great defensive prospects and Shayne Gostisbehere has already established himself as one to watch, coming off his lightning rookie campaign. But Provorov is just as good, perhaps even better. A two-way force who can put up big offensive numbers but also play a smart, shutdown role, he is gearing up for his shot at the big-time.
“I had a great summer," he said. "I’m a better player than I was a year ago – stronger, bigger, better in all areas of my game. I’m looking forward to getting to Philly for camp.”
Right now, the Flyers have seven NHLers under contract for the blueline, but veteran Andrew MacDonald spent most of last season in the minors and that could very well happen again. Not only that, but Provorov has the skill and frame to make an impact right away, so he could easily bump a couple guys down the depth chart.
Provorov has forged an interesting path so far. He came over to North America at 13, playing minor hockey in Pennsylvania for some big-time teams in Wilkes-Barre (Pittsburgh's Daniel Sprong, who is from Holland, was a teammate, for example).
Though Russian players can often struggle with the language and culture over here, Provorov's early entry really helped him adjust.
“I came here when I was really young, so it wasn’t that hard of a transition," he said. "The weird one was food – it’s real different from home, but I’m used to both now.”
He played one year for Cedar Rapids in the USHL, then went to the WHL's Brandon Wheat Kings. In Brandon, he was part of two incredible squads that were always competing for a league title and flush with NHL picks.
This past season, they won the championship and went all the way to the Memorial Cup, but got a rude awakening in Red Deer, losing all three round-robin games.
“It was 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.”
Provorov has had better luck at the world juniors, winning back-to-back silver medals with Russia. He is still eligible to play in the tournament this season, though he said the decision will be up to the Flyers, should he be in the NHL at the time. If he's back in Brandon, the defensively-staunch Russians will be a very tough out once again.
And while it seems like Provorov has proven everything he can in junior – he was CHL defenseman of the year this past season – he would return to Brandon if he doesn't make the Flyers. But there is pretty good precedent in Philadelphia for promotion, given how well Gostisbehere played once he got his shot.
“I saw him at development camp and training camp and thought he was a great player," Provorov said. "He got his chance and used it well, showing what a good player he was.”
No doubt, once Provorov sticks in Philly, he'll be an integral part of the franchise for years to come. A big fan of NIcklas Lidstrom, he may not turn out to be the best defenseman of the past 40 years, but Provorov will be pretty good in his own right. The only question is, how soon will he start?