Coyotes Double Down On Defense For This Season And Beyond

When the Arizona Coyotes are successful, their defense usually plays a pivotal role in that success. Now, the team is doubling down on defense with the signing of free agent Vladislav Provolnev. The physical defenseman has inked a one-year deal for the 2021-22 season. 

Provolnev is a big player, standing 6-foot-3 and weighing just under 200 pounds. The Coyotes expect him to deliver lots of hits, but they also believe their new acquisition is multi-talented. Provolnev can score when needed, something that could help the Arizona blue line game. 

From Russia With Gloves

While playing with the Severstal Cherepovets in the KHL this season, Provolnev scored ten goals and dished out ten assists. Five of his goals came on the power play. The Coyotes could use some help there, as they rank near the bottom of the league in scoring percentage when up a man.

The biggest challenge for the Coyotes when it comes to Provolnev may very well be getting him to the desert, literally. The Voronezh, Russia product needs to work out some immigration issues before heading to the states. If this situation can be remedied sooner than later, the Coyotes may send their new player to Tucson for the rest of this season, where he would immediately play for the AHL Roadrunners. That best-case scenario would give Tucson some instant punch and give Provolnev some invaluable experience ahead of next season.

Rick Tocchet Arizona Coyotes
Rick Tocchet, Arizona Coyotes (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Along with the hope for instant production, there is another reason the Coyotes went after this 25-year-old. The Coyotes could very well make some massive changes this offseason. If veteran defensemen are moved, there would be openings for Provolnev to see the ice quickly. 

Alex Goligoski, Jason Demers, Jordan Oesterle, Ilya Lyubushkin, and Niklas Hjalmarsson will all be unrestricted free agents at the end of this season. Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Jakob Chychrun are both signed long term, but with trade rumors continuing to swirl, no one seems to be a lock to be a Coyote come next season

In 240 career KHL games, Provolnev has 20 goals, 29 assists, and 255 penalty minutes. Along with Severstal, he also played for Spartak Moskva. So, even if Arizona makes a playoff run this season and decides to hang on to most of the defensive corps, there still may be a place to plug in Provolnev.

The Coyotes have gone this route before. The club signed Ilya Lyubushkin, another Russian star, from the KHL back in 2018. Lyubushkin is still on the squad. Lyubushkin knows about the hardships of switching countries. He had to go through immigration and quarantine before joining the Coyotes in a game this year. He has not scored but has 33 hits and 20 blocked shots for Rick Tocchet’s crew. 

Ilya Lyubushkin Arizona Coyotes
Ilya Lyubushkin Arizona Coyotes (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Physical shifts lead to good things, and the Coyotes will look to Provolnev to provide some muscle whenever he does arrive in Arizona. His 87 hits this season were 11th for KHL defensemen. Time will tell if Provolnev will be a hit on the grandest of stages. 

Still In The Hunt

While the Provolnev move has certainly led to talk about next season, the Coyotes are far from giving up on the current campaign. Arizona is still within striking distance of the St. Louis Blues for the final playoff spot in the Honda West Division. Meantime, the Vegas Golden Knights, Colorado Avalanche, and Minnesota Wild have started to create some separation from the rest of the pack.

The defense could go a long way in deciding the Coyotes’ fate. Arizona will need to suffocate the opposition down the stretch, especially when playing high octane teams like the Avalanche and Golden Knights. Desert dog defense may very well be the recipe for success the rest of this season and beyond.