Ivan Provorov always thought he would be at the Flyers’ training camp when it opened Friday in Voorhees.
“At the end of the day, I knew the deal was going to get done,” the defenseman said after going through a camp session, one day after signing a six-year, $40.5 million contract with the Flyers. “It’s been a long process, and it’s nice to get it out of the way and get playing.”
General manager Chuck Fletcher said having Provorov signed for six years “was huge for the organization" and “that cap number [$6.75 million] will be great for our franchise moving forward.”
Provorov, 22, said it was important for him to be at camp for the first day.
“There’s lots of changes that were made this summer. A new coaching staff, lots of new players,” he said. “And the season ended way too early last year. It’s been more than five months since the last game, and I just wanted to get on the ice and get going.”
That said, the big contract felt like a payday for a long journey filled with sacrifices by lots of people.
“Since you’re a little kid, you’re working hard,” Provorov said. “You’re waking up at 4:45 to get on the ice at 5:45 every day. There’s so much your family and your parents sacrificed, so it means a lot. I thanked them for everything [after he signed his deal], and it was a good conversation.”
Provorov, one of 60 players in camp Friday, was paired with veteran Matt Niskanen, a right-hander whom the Flyers acquired in the trade that sent Radko Gudas to Washington in June.
“He has tons of experience,” Provorov said of his first-day defensive partner. “He’s a great player, and he’s been on winning teams and knows how to win.”
The Flyers might have three right-handers (Niskanen, Justin Braun, Phil Myers) and three left-handers (Provorov, Travis Sanheim, Shayne Gostisbehere) on the back end. Lefties Samuel Morin and Robert Hagg are also in the mix for jobs.
Having all defensemen on their natural side helps them pass the puck to each other more quickly, Provorov said. “Everybody is here for a reason and lots of players can play their off sides, but it definitely helps when you can play on your strong side.”
Paul Holmgren, then the club president, said last season that Provorov wouldn’t be normal if he wasn’t affected by the contract he was hoping to sign. But Provorov, who struggled with turnovers and was minus-16 in 2018-19, claimed that playing in a contract year didn’t bother him.
“It was a tough year overall for the team,” he said. “It was hard for all of us to be at our best. When the team is not playing well, when everyone is not on the same page, it’s hard for everyone to be yourself. I think that’s what happened to us last year.
"We’re able to turn the page, learn from it, and come with a lot of new energy into this season. I think all of us are just excited to get going and prove that last year wasn’t the team we have and was not the way we can play.”
The Flyers allowed 3.41 goals per game last season, 29th out of 31 NHL teams.
“For most of the year, we just couldn’t find our game, couldn’t find our groove,” Provorov said. “For a little bit in February, we got going, but we just couldn’t continue to improve and keep winning games.”
The hope is that Niskanen and Braun, veterans acquired in the offseason, will stabilize the defense. Braun, a stay-at-home type, was paired with Gostisbehere on Friday, and Sanheim was with Myers.
Provorov said that he thought his good friend, restricted free agent Travis Konecny, would get a deal done soon, and that if he didn’t, the players would help him get up to speed on Alain Vigneault’s system.
Negotiations between the Flyers and Konecny, who is seeking a long-term deal, are not going well, and Fletcher said it was “an opportunity for others to step up.” Vigneault said he was “very disappointed” Konecny wasn’t at camp and said he was falling behind in learning the system.