By Dan Charlton (@Dan_Charlton48)
Picture credit: Kevin French/Sportswire
Ivan Provorov, the savior we’ve all been waiting for. The 20-year-old took on the role of number one defenseman for the Flyers this season and excelled. He was paired with Andrew MacDonald for most of the year, despite the veteran being far from the ideal partner for Provorov. Today, I will preview the possible partners for Provy in the upcoming season. This is assuming that Travis Sanheim and Phillipe Myers do not make the team out of camp and instead Robert Hägg and Samuel Morin make the big club.
Option #1: Radko Gudas
Gudas has taken massive steps forward since he was acquired by the Flyers in a genius trade from Tampa Bay. Gudas is extremely physical, and often toes the line during play. However this season he was nothing short of stellar. He contributed offensively, defensively, and was able to keep himself out of the box, following a six-game suspension at the start of the season for a hit on Austin Czarnik during the preseason. Gudas played very briefly with Provorov before the Russian got exclusively paired with MacDonald. Gudas is also a right-hand shot and the only concern would be the sheer volume of shots that he takes, but it could be a very effective number one pair for the Flyers next season.
Option #2: Robert Hägg
I know what it seems like, having a sophomore player paired with a rookie, however the playing styles of these players compliment each other well. Hägg was called up for the last game of the season against Carolina, and Dave Hakstol began experimenting with line combinations and defense pairings. One that rose from this was the combo of Provorov and Hägg. They looked really solid together on the ice, and Hägg earned that promotion as he played fantastic in his debut. If he continues that play into next season, a Provorov-Hägg pairing is very possible and could be very effective for the Flyers. The only danger is that the Swede is a rookie, but he has played big minuets in the AHL this season and should be able to adjust to the pro game easily.
Option #3: Sam Morin
This is a very unlikely pair to be put together, as Hakstol could pair Provorov with Gudas if he wants him with a physical partner. Morin would be more suited for a defenseman like Gostisbehere (or Sanheim if they both make the team), as he is more the “stay-at home” defenseman. Morin can easily play a heavy, shut-down role down the line, but he should not be saddled with super tough minutes to start his career. Morin had an impressive debut alongside Shayne Gostisbehere versus the New Jersey Devils toward the end of the season, and I think that the big defenseman can impress next season, albeit in a smaller role than Provorov’s partner.
Option #4: Shayne Gostisbehere
The pair that I, and most Philly fans, were clamoring for all season. With the addition of Morin and Hägg the Flyers will have way more defensive depth this season than they did last year. Gostisbehere can drive play, and his dynamic offensive ability combined with Provorov’s stalwart defense and amazing wrist shot could be deadly at 5v5. The two saw some time together on the power play during a slump when the team was trying to jump-start it. The two looked solid together during their limited time. The only fear with this would be the risk of putting Ghost in key situations in the defensive zone, but he can adapt to those situations. Or Hak could sub in Gudas, MacDonald, Morin, or Hägg for those final minute situations.
Out of the 4 options listed, I believe that Gudas and Hägg are the two best defensemen to play alongside Provorov next season. Both should be able to handle playing against top pairs, they both show some offensive touch, and they both can play a physical, two-way game as well. Down the line I believe that the number one pairing will be Provorov with one of Phillipe Myers or Travis Sanheim. Both bring size, offense, and skill that could match up perfectly with Provorov if they pan out the way that they are supposed to.
Now assuming Myers and Sanheim make the team…
Option #5 Phillipe Myers:
Every Flyer fan — and really NHL fan’s dream — a big, right-handed defenseman who can skate, score, and defend. Myers seems like a perfect compliment to Provorov as the two of them are skilled in all areas of the game. Ever since Myers broke out two seasons ago, the idea of this pair floated into the heads of many fans, and after watching the success of Provorov, and with Myers having yet another promising season, this could very well turn into one of the best defensive pairs in the NHL.
Option #6 Travis Sanheim:
The first word that comes to many when thinking of Sanheim: offense. The Manitoba native is another big defenseman who recently bulked up to over 200 lbs to fill his 6′-4″ frame. After a 37-point rookie year in the AHL, excitement for Sanheim is coming back around after seeing a dip due to Provorov being drafted. Sanheim is very close to reaching the NHL, and he may very well be the perfect partner for Provorov. He touched up his defensive game in the AHL this season playing mostly alongside fellow prospect Morin, and the two were very good together. So even if Sanheim and Provorov do not end up as a pair, Sanheim and Morin could very well reach the NHL together.
The Flyers are going to have something they haven’t had in a long while: defensive depth. Any of the upcoming defensive prospects could be the other half of a formidable top pair, as well as a couple defensemen on the roster already. The big five turned into the big six two seasons ago, and this isn’t even mentioning the likes of Mark Freidman, Terrance Amorosa, Linus Högberg or David Bernhardt who could also evolve into solid NHL defensemen as well. This “problem of whose going to play with who” is a great problem to have, and is a great sign of things to come for the team.