August is slowly crawling towards an end and with that comes the wonderful month of September. In addition to real hockey starting back up, the virtual world of hockey also has time for celebration; the yearly edition of EA Sports NHL franchise releases on September 15th. With it, a whole other set of the fan-base gets to dive into the realm of “Franchise Mode”, “Be A Pro”, and the hugely popular “EASHL” to satisfy their hockey cravings (me included).
This year’s edition is slightly different though. Aside from general game-play improvements, a more in depth franchise mode, and the EASHL community becoming more prominent, EA has decided to take a closer look at player overall ratings.
The annual release of player ratings is always anticipated with excitement by ‘hockey-gamers’ (is this a term? I feel as though it should be, since I am one after all) and this year EA had the following to say about it:
The official NHL® 18 Player Ratings are about to be unveiled, but before we roll them out we wanted to discuss the new player overall rating changes.
As a whole, player overalls will be lower and more spread out than they have been in previous years. There are a few reasons for this change happening.
First, it spreads out the talent from first liners to fourth liners to improve Franchise Mode logic. This means that there is a more defined gap between a player’s value in Franchise Mode and will affect any player transaction from trades to waivers.
Since talent is more spread out throughout the league, it also allows the superstars like Connor McDavid and Sidney Crosby to be even more valuable to have on your team. The top stars provide you with an advantage, so you will want to do your best to have a superstar player on your team.
Finally, top prospects like Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier will be ready to step into the NHL straight out of the NHL® Entry Draft. This will allow for more authentic drafting as generally the top picks out of every NHL® Entry Draft class are able to step in and make an impact in the NHL.
So, the overall ratings are being pushed down. All right, I can get on board with this! I’m gonna go through and list who EA has ‘rated’ from the Tampa Bay Lightning to be included in their Top 50.
Three Lightning players included in the Top 50
The 50th highest rated player in NHL 18 is Max Pacioretty at an 87 overall. The opposite end of this list has the reigning league MVP Connor McDavid as the highest rated player at a 93 overall. Since we now have our tail ends lets dive into each position.
Top 3 Centers in NHL 18:
Connor McDavid - 1st overall (93)
Sidney Crosby - 2nd overall (93)
Evgeni Malkin - 3rd overall (92)
Steven Stamkos - 9th overall (91)
The captain is rated as the 9th best player in this year’s edition of NHL 18. He is also the 4th best center on the list. This shouldn’t surprise anyone, Stamkos has been an elite goal scorer for his entire career and there is little reason to doubt his ability to carry the offensive load for the Lightning this season. Even with his injury-shortened season EA still considers Stamkos as a top 10 player in the league (as they should).
Top 3 Left Wings in NHL 18:
Alex Ovechkin - 5th overall (92)
Jamie Benn - 14th overall (90)
Taylor Hall - 41st overall (87)
No one from the Lightning made the Top 50 from the left wing position. The closest player who (plausibly) was close would’ve been Ondrej Palat. Given that EA did not release overalls for every player in the league outside of the Top 50 it’s hard to gauge what Palat’s overall will be. Given the overall squish EA is pushing I’m assuming an 85 or an 84 is where our Czech winger will end up.
Top 3 Right Wings in NHL 18:
Patrick Kane - 7th overall (91)
Vladimir Tarasenko - 13th overall (90)
Nikita Kucherov - 19th overall (89)
Nikita Kucherov’s atmospheric rise in the NHL is greeted here with a bit of a slight (in my eyes). Kucherov is only an 89? Yet, Tarasenko is a 90 and higher? This isn’t to argue that Tarasenko isn’t deserving of his placement, but I view them as equal. Sure, Tarasenko has more points than Kucherov, but it is by no means a huge gap between them.
Tarasenko, in his career, has 284 points in 341 games (0.83 PPG, which is damn good). Kucherov, in his career, has 234 points in 285 games (0.82 PPG, also really damn good). They’re both extremely talented and produce at an insane rate, so why the difference? Tarasenko has 3 straight seasons of 70 of more points and Kucherov has 3 straight of 60 or more. They both drive play for their respective teams and carry the offensive load. I don’t see why they both can’t be 90’s and right next to each other. Jamie Benn produces higher than both of them (0.88 PPG) and is only 90, leaving Kucherov out of the 90+ club just irks me a little.
Top 3 Defensemen in NHL 18:
Erik Karlsson - 6th overall (91)
Drew Doughty - 8th overall (91)
Brent Burns - 11th overall (90)
Our wonderful Swedish defensemen Victor Hedman comes in as the 12th highest rated player in NHL 18 with a 90 overall, directly behind Brent Burns. Honestly, you can nitpick this all you want, but outside of Karlsson the rest can be interchanged depending on what you want from a defensemen. They’re all elite, they all play superb defense, they all contribute offensively, they all play big minutes.
What else would you want? Personally, I’d push Doughty down and move Hedman up, but that’s just my personal preference. You can’t go wrong with the order here (except Karlsson, he’s #1). It’s been a long ride for Hedman’s rise to ‘elite’ status among NHL defensemen (we knew it a few years before the rest of the NHL, but what can you expect?), but the Swedish rearguard is a stalwart for the Lightning and will be a perennial Norris candidate for years to come.
Top 3 Goaltenders in NHL 18:
Carey Price - 4th overall (92)
Braden Holtby - 15th overall (90)
Sergei Bobrovsky - 22 overall (89)
This shouldn’t surprise anyone who has played the NHL game series before. Andrei Vasilevskiy was rated as a “Low Elite” player with an overall of an 84 in NHL 17. Given his relatively rocky season it’s no surprise our “baby goalie” isn’t included in the Top 50. I’m assuming he will be around the same overall he was in last year’s game, but given the overall squish he could come in as an 83 or 82. Fret not though, because if Vasilevskiy carries his strong play from the end of last season over to this season our cat loving goalie will find himself among the top goaltenders in the league.
Tampa Bay has three players in the Top 50 (who are also in the Top 20) which is an accomplishment in and of itself. Tampa Bay is tied for 4th with Montreal, Washington, and Winnipeg with 3 players included in EA’s list.
It’ll be interesting to see what EA rated some of the other Lightning players — Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, Andrei Vasilevskiy, Brayden Point, Alex Killorn, Anton Stralman, Mikhail Sergachev, Slater Koekkoek, and Vladislav Namestnikov all come to mind. Nonetheless, hockey season is just a few weeks away and I cannot wait to A) get my hands on this game and B) watch some Lightning hockey.