If Brandon Wheat Kings defenseman Ivan Provorov falls to the Sharks' first-round selection at #9, their painfully disappointing 2014-15 season will perhaps prove to have been worth it after all. Provorov is just that good; a tank of a defenseman custom-built for the modern NHL with the ability to be a one-man breakout, hammer the puck from the point and play an effective physical game in the defensive zone that belies his size. It isn't hyperbolic to suggest that, should San Jose actually get a chance to select the Russian blueliner, he would instantly become the greatest defense prospect in franchise history.
What do the scouts say?
Provorov is widely considered a dominant puck-moving defenseman at the junior level who can help his side control play at even-strength just as effectively as he can quarterback the power play. WHL scout Cody Nickolet of Dub From Above ranked Provorov this year's 2nd-best draft-eligible WHLer behind Mathew Barzal and had this to say about his game:
Ivan Provorov is a steady and smart two-way defenceman for the Brandon Wheat Kings who possesses a smooth, composed and powerful skating stride and can accelerate away from a forecheck or into an offensive lane due to the strength of his first few steps. He could stand to add a bit more pure top speed as he slowly gets closer to playing in the NHL, although he's surely not a slow skater by any means and displays strong edgework as he appears to be fairly light on his feet.
Provorov oozes hockey sense and plays with a remarkably high level of poise, never seems to be flustered by physical contact or by the pressure of a forecheck and executes crisp, accurate and well-timed outlet passes. Provorov passes the puck harder than most players at this level with his long stick possessing a high amount of whip to it. He can add some touch to his passes, softening them when necessary, and has the ability and composure to reverse the play or circle back in his own zone if he doesn't like what he sees in front of him when attempting to exit the zone.
Despite being on the smaller side at 6'0", 200 pounds, Provorov's defensive play has also drawn rave reviews:
Provorov shows outstanding defensive skill as well, and if you take away the times he gets caught up the ice, has the potential to be a really good two-way defenceman. He is strong positionally, and reads the play very well. He understands how to use his stick to cut down passing lanes and his body to block shots. He is also showing improved strength and clearing the front of the net extremely well and in winning battles along the boards, though he can continue to work on adding muscle to his frame. While he isn’t one to throw big hits, he isn’t afraid of the physical play and board battles, and he will take a hit to make a play when necessary.
I usually hate making prospect comparisons but I'll do it anyway: having seen Provorov in action several times, his playing style just screams Mark Giordano to me. That's undoubtedly an unfair expectation to place on the kid seeing as the Calgary Flames captain is easily one of the 5-10 best defenders in the game. At the same time, I don't think it's far-fetched to believe Provorov could reach that ceiling if things break favorably for him in his development.
Provorov is ranked 7th among North American skaters by Central Scouting, 7th overall by ISS and 8th in Bob McKenzie's final rankings.
What do the stats say?
From a production standpoint, Ivan Provorov's draft year was one of the best the WHL has seen in a while. The Dub has a well-deserved reputation for turning out elite NHL defensemen but even the likes of Shea Weber, Brent Seabrook and Tyson Barrie didn't crack a point-per-game playing in the WHL during their draft seasons. In the Dub as a whole in 2014-15, only three defensemen managed more points per game while no blueliners scored more points per minute than Provorov, who didn't turn 18 until the new year.
Among all CHL draft-eligible defensemen this season, only Oshawa's Mitch Vande Sompel, who played parts of the year at forward, averaged more points per game than Provorov. This is despite the fact that a big part of what makes the 2015 draft so highly anticipated is the treasure trove of quality major junior blueliners available to choose from. In the Year Of The CHL Defenseman, Provorov is far and away the best of the bunch.
Should the Sharks be interested?
If Provorov is somehow still available at 9th overall the Sharks should run, not walk, to the podium to read out his name. He fills both immediate and long-term needs with the capability to slot in behind Marc-Edouard Vlasic on the left side as soon as next season and eventually usurp Vlasic as a more all-around #1 on the blueline in a few years' time. Unfortunately the odds are against Provorov being there when San Jose gets to pick but let's go through the possible scenarios in painstaking detail anyway.
The top five selections are pretty much set in stone with Dylan Strome, Mitch Marner and Noah Hanifin set to go in some order after McDavid and Eichel. New Jersey, stocked with good young defensemen but lacking youth and skill up front, seems destined to take a forward, be it Barzal, Pavel Zacha or Lawson Crouse. That leaves Philly and Columbus, either of whom could take Provorov before the Sharks pick at 9th. The Blue Jackets have a surplus of forward prospects but, especially with Mike Reilly's recent defection, don't have a whole lot of promising defensemen on the way. They're almost certainly going to take Provorov if he's still on the board.
It's going to come down to the Flyers. If they're dead-set on a forward, they can afford to trade down a couple of spots, perhaps in exchange for the Sharks' 39th pick, and still get their target while the Sharks can leapfrog the Jackets for Provorov. Whether dealing a 2nd rounder and going down to only one pick in the top 100 would be worth it to move up just two spots is certainly debatable, but it might be a price worth paying to add a prospect of Provorov's caliber. Anyway this is all speculation--the Flyers could very well be content just taking the best player available and the Sharks might not even rate Provorov that highly. Still, if they're somehow in a position to draft him, there aren't many bets in San Jose's range that look better than the Russian defenseman.
What does he look like in action?
The goal that begins at around 5:48 of this video might be the single prettiest goal any 2015 draft prospect, McDavid included, scored all year. Reminder: Provorov is a defenseman.