NHL 17 is the 26th instalment in EA’s puck-slapping series, and the third edition on current-gen machines after the series launched for PS4 and Xbox One with NHL 15. New modes include the eight-team World Cup Of Hockey and Draft Champions – a fantasy spin-off of Ultimate Team. As well as the returning ‘HUT’, franchise mode gets revamped, with team owners and relocation now among its major features. On the AI side, improved physics and player intelligence are two major priorities of dev team EA Canada.
The official trailer cryptically boasts that “it’s not what you bring, it’s what you leave behind”. It’s light on details of new features, but nonetheless packed with clinical goals, smart saves, a couple of really heavy hits, and a selection of mascots from around the league.
Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby is the highest rated player in the game, with 94s for deking, hand-eye, passing, and puck control – and 95 for offensive awareness. Second-placed James Benn of the Dallas Stars runs him close, scoring 93s for passing, puck control, wrist shot accuracy and offensive awareness. It’s a full set of 96s across all puck skills for Blackhawks right-winger Patrick Kane in third, with the top five rounded out by Drew Doughty (93 for defensive awareness) and Alex Ovechkin (95 for hand-eye, 94 for balance.) You can view the full top 50 at the NHL 17 website.
St Louis Blues forward - and Russian international - Vladimir Tarasenko is this year’s cover star, after an open vote which featured one player from each of the eight World Cup Of Hockey 2016 teams. Tarasenko’s path to victory took him past Victor Hedman of the Tampa Bay Lightning in round one, the previously mentioned Stars skipper Jamie Benn in the semi-final, and finally San Jose Sharks center Joe Pavelski in the final. It’s his first appearance on the NHL series’ cover.
The good news is that a beta for NHL 17 existed; the bad is that, as you might have noticed, I delivered that news in the past tense. It ran from July 28 to August 4 on PS4 and Xbox One, and was the only means of getting early access to the game. Hockey Ultimate Team, EA Sports Hockey League, and Online Versus were the three modes featured in this early version of NHL 17.
For years, fans have pleaded for improved netminders – and this year, EA Canada insists that's exactly what you’ll get via a new ‘Reactionary Save Intelligence’ model. All keepers consider the “position, angle and scoring situation” before attempting a stop. Physical improvements have been reworked so that even your stick becomes a useful weapon in holding off opponents (and yes, as ever, such confrontations can end in a punch-up), while a refined skating model apparently makes intercepting passes on defence much more user-friendly. We’ll have more impressions after an imminent visit to the team’s Vancouver HQ.
Goodbye, Be A GM mode – you’ve been relegated to a permanent base outside of the virtual arena, and replaced with an all-encompassing franchise mode. You’re now given full control of every aspect of your team, with owner goals to adhere to (primary, secondary, and stretch goals) and the ability to tweak the cost of tickets, merchandise, stadium parking and so on. Arenas can be customised and improved, and if you get fed up with the one you’re currently in you can relocate to one of 19 other cities – and design your own uniforms in the hope of winning over your new fanbase. Oh, to have that option in FIFA 17. ("Yes, I would like to move Brighton & Hove Albion to Venus, please.")