In early October, the news shocked the fanbase of the Philadelphia Flyers. Matt Niskanen decided to retire after 14 seasons in the NHL with the Dallas Stars, Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals, and Flyers. Niskanen was brought to Philadelphia in a one for one trade with the Washington Capitals in exchange for Radko Gudas. With two years on his contract, many thought Niskanen would be a perfect partner for a young Ivan Provorov, who was coming off of a less than ideal 2018-2019 season.
Niskanen brought many attributes to the table for the blueline, including being a leader in the locker room and being a mentor to the younger players on the defensive core such as Provorov, Travis Sanheim, and Phil Myers. All three of the aforementioned players had only three or fewer years in the NHL, Provorov being the “veteran” of the trio. The average age of the Philadelphia Flyers defense in 2020 was 26. The reason why that average age wasn’t younger was due to the veteran presence of Justin Braun and Matt Niskanen, which proved to help the core of the defense.
Niskanen was assigned to the top defensive pairing with Ivan Provorov to help the young Russian develop and stabilize his game. In the 2018-2019 campaign, Provorov posted 26 points (7 goals, 19 assists) in a full 82 game season, which was four points shy of his rookie season total (30) and 15 points shy of his sophomore season (41) total. Many were concerned that Ivan was trending downward in just his third season with the Flyers, but his downward spiral in points and play could have resulted from being a contract year.
At the beginning of the season, the pairing of Provorov and Niskanen kindled chemistry and worked very well for Philadelphia. Niskanen was able to play a shutdown defense, which allowed Provorov to join the offense on the rush when necessary. Provorov settled into a calm and collected style of play, making the crisp passes, quarterbacking the first powerplay unit, and shooting the puck without forcing a play. The Russian defenseman seemed to turn into a different player than what he had showcased the previous year.
Chuck Fletcher appeared to push the right buttons and pull the right levers with the acquisition of Niskanen. He helped Provorov gain his confidence back during the 2019-2020 campaign, where he posted 36 points in 69 games. He would have surpassed that total to have a career year if it weren’t for the Covid-19 pandemic shutdown. With the Niskanen retirement, can Provorov rise to the top of his game and become the defensive star and mentor to the younger players?
With the recent signing of Phil Myers, Flyers fans expect that Provorov and Myers will headline the blueline as the top pairing. Myers hasn’t seen a full NHL season, and with this rumored shortened 2020-2021 season, he still won’t. Myers saw 21 games of action at the end of the 2018-2019 season and only 50 games last season after being called up. Pairing Phil Myers with Provorov is smart since Provorov hasn’t missed a single regular-season game since his rookie season debut.
Myers has a lot to learn about playing in the NHL, but he has handled his own in his young career. Last season, Myers was paired with Travis Sanheim, who was just as fresh as Myers on the blueline. Sanheim and Myers were the youngest defensemen on the team, but Alain Vigneault and Mike Yeo allowed them to play and learn from their mistakes. As the second defensive pairing, they were relied on to play a lot of ice time and contribute to both offensive and defensive zones.
Myers has developed into a young defensive defenseman that has learned when to take the chance to join the rush when needed. With a pairing of Provorov and Myers, they will have to coordinate and communicate together who is to join the rush and who is to be the “stay at home” defensemen. As this pairing gets used to playing with each other, there will be moments where both of these defensemen will jump into the rush and get caught down too low as the play goes the other way.
If Provorov can take the knowledge and skill that he learned from Niskanen, Myers is in good hands, and the both of them getting sucked too low in the offensive zone won’t happen as much as one could anticipate. Philadelphia Flyers fans should be excited for such a young core of defenseman to take the next step in their careers. Provorov has solidified himself as the face of the Flyers blueline, and with having Myers by his side, fans should expect lots of shut down defense with a slight uptick of offense.
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