VOORHEES – Now that’s what you might call waiting until the very last minute.
Only about an hour before he was scheduled to take part in his first day of training camp, Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov reached an agreement on a new six-year, $40.5-million contract with the Flyers.
The 22-year-old fourth-year defenseman is considered the central figure in the Flyers’ future on the backline.
After Friday’s practice at the Skate Zone, Provorov said he wasn’t all that worried that something would get done before his scheduled debut on the ice.
“It’s been a long process,’’ Provorov said. “But it was time to get it out of the way and get playing.’’
Asked if he was concerned he might be sitting out this first day, as restricted (and unsigned) free agent Travis Konecny did, Provorov shook his head.
“No,’’ he said. “We talked a lot throughout from the end of the season. . .all summer. Both sides wanted to get it done before camp started.’’
General manager Chuck Fletcher sounded relieved to get the deal done with Mark Gandler, Provorov’s agent.
“We’re pleased to have Ivan locked up for the next six years,” Fletcher said. “Over the course of his young career, he has developed into one of the top young defensemen in the NHL.
“His commitment to the game and his teammates is second to none. He will be an important part of our success for years to come.”
Added Provorov: “I’m happy, you know, here for six years, We have a great organization, great players, a great coaching staff, I’m just, you know, really trying to get going and, be here for six more years, and try to get to the playoffs and go as far as possible.’’
For Fletcher, having one of his top defensemen in camp can allow him to work on other things.
“It’s great,’’ Fletcher said of the signing, which had been in the works for about a year. “It was a long battle. Ivan is a tremendous player. To get six years is huge for our organization. I’m thrilled to have him tied up for probably the six best years of his career.’’
Provorov has appeared in 246 games over the previous three campaigns, totaling 30 goals and 67 assists for 97 points. He holds a Flyers record for consecutive games played from his NHL debut, having appeared in every game since making his debut on Oct. 14, 2016.
The Russia native has averaged 23:45 of ice time per game over his three seasons and averaged a career-high 25:07 last year; he became just the sixth NHL player to play over 2,050 minutes in a season in which he was 22 or younger since the NHL began tracking time-on-ice in 1997.
His game of 30:20 on Jan. 31 at Boston was the first 30-plus minute game for a Flyer in nearly four years, and made Provorov the second-youngest Flyer to play more than 30 minutes in a game since that 1997 start date.
That said, it’s natural to now consider Provorov a leader on this team.
“From my first day, I’ve tried to lead by example,’’ Provorov said. “And I think that’s what I’ve been doing. The past three years, you know, with every year, I’m starting to be more vocal and try to speak up more in locker room.’’
Provorov won the Barry Ashbee Trophy as the Flyers’ most outstanding defenseman in his rookie season of 2016-17, becoming the youngest Flyer ever to receive the honor.
He appeared in all 82 games that season, which made him the first Flyers rookie to appear in at least 82 games since Mikael Renberg played 83 of a possible 84 games as a rookie in 1993-94, and only the third rookie to appear in 82 or more games along with Renberg and Dimitri Yushkevich in 1992-93.
Provorov played 18 games of 24 minutes or more that season, including a game of 27:17 on March 15 vs. Pittsburgh that set a Flyers record for the highest ice time for a rookie in a regulation game.
A native of Yaroslavl, Russia, Provorov was selected by the Flyers in the first round (7th overall) of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft.
Provorov is expected to be paired with veteran Matt Niskanen (acquired from Washington in an offseason trade) and that tandem offers some interesting possibilities.
Niskanen won a Stanley Cup with Washington a couple years ago.
“He knows how to win,’’ Provorov said. “It’s just being able to help each other, play off each other, support each other on the ice all over the place.’’
Three years ago, Provorov surprised some people by making the roster as a 19-year-old. The day it happened, he called home to Russia and woke up his dad in the middle of the night there. There was a joyous reaction.
A similar response came with the contract signing.
“After I signed the papers, I called my dad,’’ Provorov said. “I had a conversation with him. Definitely exciting.
“Since you’re a little kid, you’re working hard, waking up at 4:45 (a.m.) everyday. Your family sacrifices. It means a lot, I thanked them for everything.’’
Like most of the Flyers, Provorov slumped last season. He dropped from 17 goals, 41 points and a plus-17 in 2018-19 to just seven goals, 26 points and a minus-16 last year.
That resulted in extra work this past offseason.
“I wasn’t focusing on last year,’’ he said. “My job is to be my best, improve. This summer I got some rest, At the end of the day, I knew a deal was going to get done.’’
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