It started with Jimmy Watson, grew to prominence with Mark Howe, flourished with Eric Desjardins and maintained excellence with Kimmo Timonen.
The Flyers’ long tradition of developing great defensemen has been around since the days of the Broad Street Bullies and it just might have found its newest successor to the throne.
Ivan Provorov, the 23-year-old soft-spoken Russian, took home his second Barry Ashbee Trophy (most outstanding defenseman) on Thursday perhaps signifying he’s ready to join the ranks of the aforementioned greats.
And why not? He’s talented at both ends of the ice, having led the Flyers’ D-corps in goals (13) and points (36); plus he led all NHL backliners with seven power-play goals.
Durability? He’s played in 315 straight games, which is tied for third in Flyers’ history. His 24:51 minutes of ice time per game were nearly three more minutes than the next Flyer and eighth among all NHL blueliners.
“It’s just a great honor. There are a lot of great defensemen that have played for the Flyers and have won this in the past,” said Provorov, who also won the award his rookie season in 2016-17.
Desjardins tops the list of Ashbee winners with seven, including six straight from 1994-95 to 1999-2000.
Timonen stands second on the list with five honors over a period from 2007-08 to 2013-14. One of the players to edge him out of the award during that span was Hall of Famer Chris Pronger.
Howe, considered by many the greatest defenseman in Flyers’ history, won four Ashbee Trophies including three straight from 1985-86 to 1987-88. During that timeframe he twice was a finalist for the Norris Trophy for best defenseman in the National Hockey League.
Watson was an NHL All-Star who took the Ashbee twice, in 1975-76 and 1977-78. Only a back injury which ended his career prematurely kept him from achieving full greatness.
No doubt the addition of former Stanley Cup winner Matt Niskanen helped Provorov in a big way this season. Plus the trust he built with head coach Alain Vigneault proved to be a factor as well.
“I think overall this year, our defense is a lot better,’’ Provorov said. “We’re defending as a five-man unit, the forwards are back-checking so it allows us to step up and get the puck back faster.”
The Yaroslavl, Russia native made his NHL debut on Oct. 14, 2016 and, as mentioned, has not missed a game since.
Shayne Gostisbehere has won the Barry Ashbee Trophy twice as well (including his rookie year) and appeared to be on his way to an outstanding career as well.
But a series of debilitating injuries has slowed his progress the past couple of years. If he can get healthy again, he might be able to get back on track.
Provorov was a first-round pick (seventh overall) in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. His name first popped up on the international stage in 2015-16 as a member of the Russia team which won the U20 World Championships. He also helped the Brandon Wheat Kings win the Western Hockey League that season and he was named the WHL defenseman of the year.