Ivan Provorov cried at the end of his only NHL playoff series. It was in 2018, and the Flyers had just been ousted by the Penguins in six games.
It was later reported that Provorov had played the final game with a Grade 3 separated shoulder, sustained when he crashed into the boards late in Game 5. Had it been the regular season, Provorov might have missed two months.
"As long as my arm was attached to me,” he said, “I was playing.”
It can be debated whether Provorov’s heroism actually was detrimental to the Flyers that particular night, but there is no question that being out there every game and in all situations is important to the 23-year-old defenseman. And to the Flyers.
“It means a lot. I want to be there,” said Provorov, who is 6-foot-1 and 201 pounds. “I want to make a difference, and I want to help the team win in any way possible: PK [penalty kill], power play, even-strength. It means a lot.”
Provorov has led the Flyers in ice time in each of his four seasons. He is eighth in the NHL this season at the break at a shade less than 25 minutes per game, and his six power-play goals lead all defensemen.
Here are the NHL leaders in ice time. All are defensemen.
Provorov, the No. 7 overall draft pick in 2015, has never missed an NHL game. He is at 296 consecutive regular-season contests at the break, the most ever for a Flyers defenseman and the most for any Flyer to start his career.
“I think I get it from my dad,” Provorov said with a laugh. “I don’t remember the last time my dad got sick. It definitely comes from him.”
The Flyers’ record for consecutive games is 484, set by Rod Brind’Amour from 1993 to ’99. That mark is safe until at least March 2022. But John LeClair, who is second at 317, is in line to be passed this March — March 15, to be precise.
“He’s been great since the first game he played for us,” said Claude Giroux, who also is on a run of 296 consecutive games played. “He’s a reliable player who plays a lot of minutes in a lot of situations. He’s a guy we rely on a lot.”
(By the way, Doug Jarvis’ NHL record of 964 consecutive games won’t come up in Provorov’s case until at least February 2027.)
Provorov’s development is far from complete. He’s better this season than last, but he’s not infallible. At his position, especially, one mistake can change games quickly.
But his ceiling has yet to be established, too. During a recent murderous stretch of games against Washington, Tampa Bay, Boston, St. Louis and Pittsburgh, Provorov averaged more than 26 minutes and was a cumulative plus-3. Then there’s that goal he scored in overtime at Montreal in November. Joe Watson told Inquirer sports writer Sam Carchidi that he never saw Bobby Orr make such a move. Watson had played with and against Orr.
Arizona coach Rick Tocchet called Provorov “one of the best young defensemen in the league.”
“He plays with an edge in the sense that he doesn’t play safe. He’s up the ice. He’s not scared the way he plays,” Tocchet said. “He’s trying to win the game. As a young guy, he wants to be in those spots. When I watch him, he wants the puck. I love kids like that. They’re not scared.”
According to his own coach, there’s still room for Provorov to grow.
“He can be more consistent,” said Alain Vigneault, who was a defenseman for his 42-game NHL career with St. Louis in the early 1980s. “I think offensively, knowing when to jump up and when to use his good shot: Those are elements of his game that as he gets more experience, he’s going to improve.”
It’s been 20 years since a Flyers defenseman was named to one of the two postseason all-star teams selected by the Professional Hockey Writers Association. That was Eric Desjardins. In the 1980s, Mark Howe was selected first-team All-NHL three times. Barry Ashbee made the second team in 1974. That’s it. Those are the only Flyers defensemen to make those teams, which are the equivalent of being named NFL All-Pro.
It already can be argued that Provorov is the best defenseman the Flyers have drafted since Jimmy Watson — especially since Shayne Gostisbehere’s play has slipped since he finished second in rookie of the year voting in 2016. Stud Flyers defensemen Howe, Desjardins and Kimmo Timonen started elsewhere.
Joni Pitkanen (No. 4 in 2002) and Behn Wilson (No. 6 in 1978) were the only defensemen drafted higher by the Flyers than Provorov.
“You expect to have some growing pains, especially playing D,” said Flyers veteran forward James van Riemsdyk, the No. 2 overall pick in 2007. “That’s a tough position to come in and play at 19 years old. He’s rock-solid back there. I think he takes a lot of pride in the toughness and the grind of playing big minutes and being someone the team can rely upon. It’s definitely an impressive streak.”
Provorov is the only player whose career started in 2016-17 who has never missed a game. Among Flyers with consecutive-games streaks, he’s the only defenseman in the top 10.
“He’s a force for us. He plays big minutes against the other team’s top lines," Vigneault said. "He plays on our power play. He kills penalties. I still think he hasn’t peaked yet. There’s a lot more there. He’s an excellent player right now with still some upside to go.”