BUFFALO - There is a wall in the Brandon Wheat Kings' weight room at their home rink, Keystone Centre, filled with colorful photos and stats of team alumni.

It serves as both a nod to the stars of yesteryear and an ounce of motivation: Put in the work here and you can be on this wall one day.

There is a photo of Brian Propp, a message depicting his 194-point season in 1978-79, which still stands as a franchise record.

Ivan Provorov has played in Brandon, the only Manitoba-based team in the Western Hockey League, only since committing there last Aug. 14. Yet he became intimately familiar with the wall, absorbing his franchise's 79-year history.

So much so that when Provorov was interviewed by Winnipeg Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff at the NHL scouting combine, he knew Cheveldayoff first as the Wheat Kings' captain from the late 1980s. He knows off the top of his head that Ray Ferraro once netted a staggering 108 goals - a single-season WHL record that may never be broken - during the 1983-84 season.

Who was the goaltender on that team?

"Ron Hextall," Provorov told the Daily News. "He played in Brandon. He's from Brandon. Then went on to play for the Flyers, now he's the GM."

Provorov smiled, but didn't know how many wins Hextall (29) had that season. Former Washington Capitals head coach Glen Hanlon holds most of Brandon's goaltending marks, anyway.

Still, not bad for an 18-year-old from Yaroslavl, Russia, who didn't know much at all about the Wheat Kings or even Manitoba before being drafted there last spring.

Provorov is considered by some to be the best defenseman available in this week's NHL draft - even ahead of Boston College's Noah Hanifin, who garnered most of the early attention.

And despite a glut of high-level blue liners in the pipeline, Provorov is the player believed to be the consensus No. 1 on the Flyers' draft chart behind obvious choices Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel.

One scout says if Provorov is still available when the Flyers select at No. 7, that he "unequivocally" will be heading to Philadelphia. Of course, this is just the speculation of the season, because nothing in this draft is unequivocal after McDavid and Eichel. But it just adds to the intrigue of the process.

The problem for the Flyers might be that Provorov will be off the board by the time they pick, snatched up by, say, Toronto at No. 4 or Carolina at No. 5.

One source says Flyers amateur scout Mark Greig, the WHL expert who pushed for defenseman Travis Sanheim at No. 17 overall last June, has pleaded with Hextall to trade up to ensure the Flyers can snag Provorov. That might prove difficult, since the Flyers likely would need to package a roster player in addition to the No. 7 pick just to jump up a couple slots in this high-end draft.

Hextall never strays too far from his Brandon roots and connections. He remains close with Wheat Kings owner, general manager and coach Kelly McCrimmon, whose brother - the late Brad McCrimmon - was Hextall's Flyers teammate.

Sanheim plays for another WHL team, in Calgary, but he is from small-town Elkhorn, Manitoba, and his mother's stepbrother is related to Hextall.

The Flyers have been doing their due diligence on Provorov for more than a year.

That's because he has roots much closer to Philadelphia than Yaroslavl, Russia, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where he played the 2013-14 season, or even Brandon. Provorov spent his first two years on North American soil playing in Pittston, Pa., the town that splits Wilkes-Barre from Scranton.

Provorov landed in Northeast Pennsylvania as a 14-year-old with little English skills after being recruited from Russia by Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights coach Alex Vasko.

The Knights won the Tier I 14U national title in Provorov's first season in 2011-12. He had 61 points in 27 games. One scout watched him take a 9-minute shift - no exaggeration - in that national tournament in Williamsville, N.Y. It wasn't because Provorov was greedy or selfish, but because Vasko didn't want to take him off the ice.

Fellow first-round draft hopefuls Daniel Sprong (ranked 20th by NHL Central Scouting) and Nikita Pavlychev (153rd) were both on that Wilkes-Barre/Scranton team.

The Knights were so good, so powerful that USA Hockey changed the rules for the following season that limited the number of foreign import players on youth teams to four. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton had six or seven, thanks to Vasko.

Provorov, who has grown to 6-1 and 201 pounds, moved up to the Knight's midget team the following season and wracked up 97 points in 51 games . . . as a defenseman. There, he caught the eye of USHL scouts, and spent his 17-year-old season with the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders.

Provorov is smart. He almost decided on an Ivy League education at Cornell University instead of Brandon. His mother is a cardiologist.

Provorov wowed scouts with his ability to control games, to dictate pace with the puck comfortably resting on his stick. He can play in every situation. TSN scout Craig Button, who was the GM of the Calgary Flames, said Provorov moves "with an economy of effort" and instincts and smarts that are "unparalleled among the 'D' in the draft." He is gifted offensively: Provorov led all WHL rookies in points (61) and assists (46) this season - again, as a defenseman.

In January, Provorov captured a silver medal as one of the top players on Russia's Under-20 world junior championship squad. He's been able to knock down some of the Russian hockey stereotypes along the way. He wasn't drafted until the third round in last year's KHL draft (120th overall) by his hometown Yaroslavl club because they have next to zero confidence he'll choose the KHL over the NHL.

The NHL has always been his goal, it's why he came to Pittston four years ago, to get used to the culture and language.

"He is incredibly Americanized. He's been here so long," said one scout, who was drafted in the NHL's first round himself. "Some people view Russians as standoffish, or say that they don't want to work at learning our culture. It isn't that way with Provorov. All the others kids on the team gravitate to him.

"I can't explain it. With some players, you can just sense it, you get this can't-miss feeling about them. That's Ivan."

If Provorov didn't impress enough with his on-ice play during the season, he earned a reputation at the scouting combine as a star during the interview process. He met with 23 teams and received high marks for his comfort level, depth of answers and honesty.

"Some of the questions would be, 'How hard do you work during the summer?' or 'Tell us something about your family.' Stuff like that," Provorov said. "I was trying to be myself. Just to tell people who I am on and off the ice."

He said he thought the interview with Flyers brass, led by director of scouting Chris Pryor, went "pretty well." The Flyers are a "good team," he said, but added he'll be happy "anywhere" he goes.

Provorov was grilled about whether he was the best defenseman in the draft, to which he responded: "I don't think it's for me to decide. Some people have different opinions. Every time I play, I play as hard as I can and do everything that I can do to help the team."

He has an air about him, a confidence that is not close to cocky. His maturity has drawn comparisons to Aaron Ekblad, last year's No. 1 pick, who played nearly 22 minutes a night for the Florida Panthers as a Calder Trophy finalist.

"I think I'm ready this year," Provorov said of playing in the NHL. "I think I can adjust my game to the speed and the physical play. I'm going to work hard in the summer. If not, definitely by the age of 19."

Provorov's only disappointment from the scouting combine was not getting to meet Hextall - after seeing him on the wall so many times.

"He's a big Brandon alumni," Provorov said. "We'll see. Maybe I'll see him at the draft."

On Twitter: @frank_seravalli

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