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Russian Rocket: Flyers' Provorov making a rapid rise

Ivan Provorov is 19 going on 35. Nothing rattles him. Not rants from the legendary Jaromir Jagr, nor the speed of rising superstar Connor McDavid - two players he effectively defended in recent games.

Ivan Provorov is 19 going on 35. Nothing rattles him. Not rants from the legendary Jaromir Jagr, nor the speed of rising superstar Connor McDavid - two players he effectively defended in recent games.

After just two months in the NHL and with no professional experience before that, the stoic Russian teenager is already the Flyers' best defenseman, somebody second-year coach Dave Hakstol trusts to play against opponents' big guns.

"I think he can continue to improve and grow as he works day by day," Hakstol said after practice Friday. "That being said, there's an awful lot to like. The No. 1 thing is his poise and his ability to consistently show up every day and go to work. That's such a key component for a young player and he's done a very good job at that."

Provorov has off-the-charts hockey sense, but he began his career inauspiciously. In his third game, he was a disaster. The low point came when he slipped, leading to a Chicago goal. He skated off the ice, slammed his stick into the boards, and dejectedly sat on the bench, where he was consoled by captain Claude Giroux.

"I tried to use it as a positive," said Provorov, who was minus-5 in that 7-4 loss. "Try to prove that's not me, just one bad game."

The sturdy 6-foot-1, 201-pund defenseman was minus-9 over his first 11 games, plus-5 over his next 19 games.

"When he started the year, you could see he was really fighting it, and you could see he didn't have much confidence," said Mark Howe, director of pro scouting for the Detroit Red Wings. "The first time I saw him was after the Chicago game, where he had a tough game. That shakes your confidence a little bit. I saw him a few weeks later and you could see he was getting a little better, but was still struggling."

Two weeks later, Howe - a Hockey Hall of Famer who is the best defenseman in Flyers history - saw a major change. Provorov was beginning to get more daring on the ice, beginning to show the all-around skills that made him the Canadian Hockey League's defenseman of the year last season.

"You could see he was starting to try to make a few plays, so you could see his confidence level beginning to rise little bit," said Howe, who sits in the Wells Fargo Center press box during most games. "Then two weeks later, he stepped up and now he's involved in the offense more and he's taken more of a leadership role defensively."

Giroux said Provorov reminds him of former Flyer Chris Pronger with the way he reads the game and can quickly size up a play.

Howe, who despises comparisons, was especially impressed with Provorov in the Flyers' 3-2 overtime win over Florida on Tuesday. In that game, Provorov had an assist, played a team-high 23 minutes, 23 seconds, and saved a goal by blocking a shot on a two-on-one in overtime.

"I thought he was their best defenseman," Howe said. "He was their matchup guy against Florida's best forwards. In some people, they call it swagger. You can see the confidence is there and he feels good about himself and his game."

In the rematch with Chicago, Provorov helped shut down the explosive Patrick Kane in a 3-1 Flyers win. Provorov scored twice, saved a goal after a puck had gotten behind goalie Steve Mason, and was plus-1 - a far cry from his nightmare performance against the Blackhawks on Oct. 18.

"It's always a learning process," Howe said. "It's been two months of learning how to play in the league and he's adapted awful quickly . . . and he's getting more involved physically."

"Just trying to get better each day," the soft-spoken Provorov said.

Howe was asked if Provorov reminded him of any defenseman from the past or present.

"The one thing the media tends to do - and I don't know why - is they always try to compare people," he said. "I remember some years ago, somebody was comparing Joni Pitkanen to Larry Robinson. Larry Robinson was one of the all-time greatest defensemen in the history of the game. So with [Provorov], let the guy play, let him develop. I like what I've seen. Would any team in the league love to have him? Yeah, sure you would."

Howe said there will be time for Provorov - who went into Saturday with three goals and 13 points in 29 games - to spread his wings and become more of an offensive force.

"I think the most important thing for a young defenseman is you learn how to play defense first," Howe said. "I want to see you solidify your end of the rink. Everything starts from there. Everything will go forward from there, and I'm seeing a lot of that from him. The better he is down there, the other stuff will come."

Provorov's confidence level from the beginning of the season to now "is like night and day," Howe said. "You could see him standing up and chirping at Jaromir Jagr a little bit after Jagr took the penalty on him. Jagr thought he took a dive, but he didn't dive and he was kind of speaking his piece. They're all positive signs in the development of a good young player."