Ivan Provorov amuses Flyers captain Claude Giroux.
"Watching him today, I just started laughing a little bit with the plays he does," Giroux said early in training camp. "Guys try to go one-on-one against him and he makes it look pretty easy."
Provorov is only 21 and already has established himself as one of the NHL's top defensemen.
Last year, in his second season, he tied for the league lead among defensemen with 17 goals. He finished the season with 41 points and a plus-17 rating – and also played all 82 games for the second straight year.
Yet, the lasting impression of the usually stoic Provorov was of his tearfully talking about how he had let down the team as the Flyers were eliminated by the Pittsburgh Penguins, 8-5, in Games 6 of the opening playoff round. Provorov's turnovers led to two late Penguins goals.
Never mind that Provorov lost feeling in his left arm and couldn't shoot the puck or stickhandle because of a separated left shoulder that probably would have sidelined him for eight weeks if it was suffered during the regular season.
Provorov got some injections and played through the pain.
"As long as my arm was attached to me, I was playing," he said at the time.
Emotionally, he said, it took a few weeks for him to regroup from the defeat, one in which the Flyers blew a 4-2 lead.
"It sucks losing. I hate losing," he said during training camp. "On the other hand, you have to learn from it and move on. Turn the page and prepare for this season. That's what I did."
"You can't put the blame on him. There were five other games in that series that we could have done something," defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere said. "Everyone told him the same thing: 'Just keep your head up. You have a lot of your career left and we're going to have our chances to get better.' Obviously it's going to sting and hurt with him a little, but the last thing you want to do is get that man mad. I think he'll be fine."
Provorov pushed himself in the summer while training hard in Russia after his shoulder healed.
"People don't see how he takes care of himself off the ice," said Andrew MacDonald, who was Provorov's defensive partner in the final playoff game last season. "He's going to play for a long, long time in this league and be at an elite level. One of the reasons you knew he was ready at a young age was by the way he takes care of himself and his dedication."
Provorov, no longer feeling as if he had to stay in the background because of his youth, started to get more vocal in the locker room toward the end of last season. That trend will continue as he takes on more of a leadership role this season.
"I'm going to take a step forward in that department," he said. "… This is my third year and I'm comfortable with everybody in the locker room and everybody in the organization."
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Down the road, Provorov is a candidate to be an alternate captain or even the captain.
He's 21 going on 35. MacDonald kidded about Provorov's mature makeup.
"He's the backbone for us on the back end. He does so much. He plays so many crucial minutes – penalty kill, power play, against top lines. He really does it all for us, and he does it with such ease out there. He's such a good skater and is a joy to watch. He's obviously a huge part of our team."
Provorov said he hopes to wear a 'C' or an 'A' some day, but he isn't obsessed with it.
"For me, I'm going to try to lead on and off the ice; it doesn't matter if you have the 'A' or you don't. There's a lot of great leaders on this team that don't have an 'A,' " he said. "We have a great team and everybody wants to do everything they can to help the team win, so that's what I'm going to do as well."
On the ice, Provorov is the Flyers' most well-rounded defenseman, but he says he can improve.
"I just have to get better in every aspect. There's no limits. You can always get better and better," he said.
Provorov and Gostisbehere had great chemistry when paired last season. They move the puck out of the defensive zone quickly.
"We understand the game, how to be open for each other, and it worked well," Provorov said.
Both have eye-opening offensive ability and know when one of them can cheat into the opponents' end.
Gostisbehere, a swift skater, is a dazzling offensive player and getting better on defense. Provorov is strong in both areas and a future all-star.
"Provy's smart and knows when to join [the rush] and pick his spots well, and obviously defensively he's a wall back there," MacDonald said. "He can do it all. I can't think of someone in particular he reminds me of, but maybe he's creating his own mold out there."