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Flyers’ Top D-man This Season? My Answer May Surprise You



Nick Seeler, Philadelphia Flyers
Flyers defenseman Nick Seeler dives to knock the puck away from Carolina's Stefan Noeser on March 9. Photo: AP.

Goaltender Carter Hart gets my vote as the Philadelphia Flyers’ MVP this season. It had been an intriguing race with high-scoring Travis Konecny before the right winger was injured, limiting him to 52 games.

But the vote for the Flyers’ top defenseman isn’t as clear-cut.

From here, it’s a battle between Ivan Provorov and — wait for it — unheralded Nick Seeler. Cam York also deserves consideration.

Here is a look at my three leading candidates (listed alphabetically), along with my choices at the end:

Ivan Provorov

Stats: 24 points (five goals, 19 assists), 89 hits, and a minus-10 rating in 74 games.

Provorov, 26, could finish with his lowest, full-season point total in his seven years with the Flyers. Another minus: He has had more defensive-zone giveaways (65) than any NHL player except Montreal’s Jonathan Kovacevic (79).

A first-round selection in 2015 (No. 7 overall), Provorov is averaging 0.84 points per 60 minutes, and his on-ice Corsi (shot-attempt percentage) is 42%.

His pluses: He defends against top lines all the time, leads the Flyers in average time on ice per game (23:03), and tops the team with 151 blocked shots, which is tied for 13th in the NHL. In addition, he has been a good mentor to York.

Nick Seeler

Stats: 13 points (four goals, nine assists), 119 hits, and a plus-4 rating in 71 games.

Seeler, 29, wasn’t even expected to be a regular before the season started, but he has set career highs in goals, points, and games. He is the ultimate team player, someone who always hustles, someone who drops his gloves to protect a teammate. He plays with physicality at all times, and is strong along the boards.

You could make a case that Provorov’s plus-minus rating is worse than Seeler’s because he faces top-scoring lines. Seeler, who plays on the third pairing, is usually matched against bottom-six players.

Seeler is tied for 18th in the NHL with 141 blocked shots  — and he’s done it with much less ice time than Provorov. He averages 14:28 per game. He is second on the team in hits, has just 19 defensive-zone giveaways, is averaging 0.76 points per 60 minutes, and his Corsi is 46%.

Cam York

Stats: 18 points (two goals, 16 assists), 36 hits, and a plus-7 rating in 46 games.

York, who turned 22 on Jan. 5, was recalled from the Phantoms in early December, and the southern California kid hasn’t disappointed anyone.

Paired mostly with Provorov, the smooth-skating defenseman has demonstrated why he was a first-round selection (14th overall) in 2019.

Yes, he has had more offensive struggles than expected — he scored his first goal in the last 43 games Thursday in Ottawa — but he has concentrated on the defensive side of his game. The offense will come.

Still, York has averaged 1.22 points per 60 minutes (higher than Provorov and Seeler), has a 50% Corsi rating, and has had 20 defensive-zone giveaways.

He is a future fixture on the Philadelphia Flyers’ D.

Bottom line

The eye test says Seeler has been more valuable than Provorov or York, and most of the numbers support it. Yes, Provorov has spent a full season facing stiffer competition, but he has been, at best, average in that role.

Seeler, who stepped away from hockey for a season (2020-21) because he needed a “mental and physical break,” plays every shift like he has something to prove. Maybe that comes from always having to fight to land a roster spot.

Whatever the case, he has shown he belongs, and he gets my vote as the Flyers’ best defenseman for 2022-23. Provorov, even with his faults, is a gamer and is my No. 2 choice, with York a close third.

Like Konecny in the MVP vote, playing in a limited number of games (46) hurts York’s case. But, from here, he will have plenty of chances to be a future winner of the Barry Ashbee Trophy, given to the team’s best defenseman.

The media will vote for the Bobby Clarke Trophy (team MVP) and Ashbee winners, and they will be presented before the April 11 home game against Columbus.

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