For all of you Canadian Geography novices, that southwestern Manitoba comment was an Ivan Provorov joke. He's the guy that everyone seems to think has the best chance of making the Flyers out of camp, and he's got about three weeks to prove that to Ron Hextall.
We'll see how that develops. But the lineups the team used for this camp today are (in my mind) indicative of how these young guys are viewed. Let's go live to Dave Isaac in Voorhees:
#Flyers rookie lines in skate:— Dave Isaac (@davegisaac) September 21, 2016
Goulbourne, Martel, Aube-Kubel
Bunnaman, Salinitri, Konecny
Dove-McFalls/Twarynski, Laberge, Swaveley
Thanks, Dave.Leier (not on rookie roster), Fazleev, Lyubimov— Dave Isaac (@davegisaac) September 21, 2016
Morin & Sanheim
McFadden & Willcox
Provorov & Menell/Myers
The Goulbourne-Martel-Aubekubel line is going to KILL IT for the Phantoms this year.
The Bunnaman-Salinitri-Konecny trio is all going to be heading back to the OHL this season. Salinitri and Konecny play together in Sarnia.
I'm not sure what to make of that third line. Swaveley is a 24-year-old kid out of college who played 15 games for the Phantoms last year. The other three are 2nd, 3rd, and 4th round picks from the past two years who are all probably headed back to Canadian juniors to stew for another season or two.
The fourth line is where is gets really interesting. Taylor Leier is an AHL veteran (sort of, he's played two seasons with the Phantoms). Fazleev will be making his AHL debut this upcoming season, but people have high hopes for him. And, playing with those two guys who figure to be impact guys for Lehigh Valley, is 24-year-old rookie Roman Lyubimov.
Lyubimov (pronounced "lube-him-off") was signed this summer from the KHL. He's kind of a while card and his point totals indicate that he'll probably be more of a depth guy than anything. But he's with Leier and Fazleev, which is an excellent sign for him.
Morin and Sanheim are going to probably be two members of Lehigh Valley's top four defensemen this year. Robert Hagg (pronounced "hog) will also probably factor into that discussion, as will Mark Alt, TJ Brennan, and Andrew MacDonald (kidding but not really).
The McFadden/Wilcox pairing is one that might be able to stick at the bottom of the Phantoms lineup, but they might also get bumped to lower leagues like the CHL or ECHL for one more season. Willcox, in case you haven't heard, was the Captain of the Cornell University Hockey Team. Cornell Is An Ivy League School. Ithaca Is Gorges.
Provorov, Menell, and Myers are all too young to play in the AHL this season. It's Flyers or Juniors for all three of them.
Initially, I was impressed that Menell scored 53 points as a defenseman last year in the WHL. Then I realized that Provorov scored 73 points in less games and was 84 points better in plus/minus. I hate plus/minus as a stat, but the difference between -20 and +64 is YUGE. Menell, see you in the WHL this year.
I like Myers but he's going to play another year in the QMJHL, probably serve as one of the captains of Rouyn-Noranda, and then he'll get to the AHL in 2017-18 and develop the traditional way.
Now, let's talk about a defenseman developing in the non-traditional way. I saved the best for last. My thoughts, largely, can be summed up by Charlie O'Connor from Broad Street Hockey and Mike DiNicola from O&BP. Talent-wise, Provy is clearly NHL-caliber. Physically, he fills out his 6'1" frame well enough that he could withstand the nature of the NHL.
The question about Provorov's NHL readiness boils down to whether or not he's ready mentally. The NHL season is a long, grueling run to the playoffs (and then it gets even more grueling). The past two years with Brandon, he played 60 and 62 games (plus 19 and 21 more in the playoffs). Again, he should be there physically. But the mental adaptation can be a big one. I'll reference this quote from Sam Morin, who made the leap from juniors to the AHL at age 20:
"The AHL is so much different than junior. It's not even close. The guys are way stronger and little things, like in the corners, those guys aren't gliding to the net. They're sprinting. There's just so much intensity and that's the big difference. It was a big adjustment, but I learned from it."And that's about a worse league with two extra years of development!
You're asking a kid who has been able to dip Skoal (mint, long cut) and read Playboy magazine (RIP) for less than two years to leave behind a world where he's ALWAYS been the best player on EVERY team he's ever played for. You want that kid to have to immediately play against guys like Evgeny Malkin, Alex Ovechkin, and Jason Gosh Darn Fucking Chimera? You're insane. He's going to have to ease into it.
But here's where I start to see both sides of the debate. Provorov is going to have to make that jump eventually. We can't stop Alex Ovechkin from cheap-shotting him and breaking his shoulder forever. At some point, there is going to have to be a leap. For Shayne Gostisbehere, at age 22, the "leap" was Mark Streit's broken vas deferens.
For Ivan Provorov, at age 19, is the "leap" just going to be "better now than later"?
Well actually, there are reasons to think it might not be better now than later. In Brandon, Provorov led the team on the ice - because he was the best defenseman in the whole CHL - but he wasn't tasked with leading the locker room as a captain. Captaincy is one major selling point of sliding Provorov back to the Wheat Kings.
The other benefit of pushing back Provy's three-year entry-level contract is money. If this thing goes according to plan, he's going to command the Dougie Hamilton contract ($5-6 million) after his entry-level deal expires. Would you rather:
- $900k from age 19-22 (2016-19), then at least $5 million from age 22 (2019-20) until forever
- $900k from age 20-23 (2017-20), then at least $5 million from age 23 (2020-21) until forever
Basically, do you want to let him captain Brandon for a year, and pay him at least $4 million less in 2019-20? Part of me says yes, that's a logical move for his development and for the team's salary cap situation.
And then part of me says FUCK THAT I WANT TO WATCH IVAN PROVOROV RIGHT THE FUCK NOW!
So I don't know, I'm really torn. Obviously, We'll see how he looks in camp.