NHL 17: EASHL's Great Steps Forward and Ghosts of Hockey's Past

The NHL season is right around the corner, which means NHL 17 is in full swing. Since its inception in NHL 09, one of the game modes that has really commanded the attention of the fans is EASHL. Despite its ups and downs over the years, it has become a pinnacle to look forward to every year.

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This year’s iteration has added some subtle yet fantastic changes that make EASHL a great experience for veterans of the mode as well as newcomers.

A Plethora Of Customization

In NHL 16, after a year’s hiatus on current-gen systems, players were dealt a slim picking of customization options for their EASHL player. Once you had a squad to run with, team options there were also quite limited.

This year the NHL 17 team has overhauled the creation suite to give players a lot more choice in regards to appearance, right down to goal celebrations. Team creation options are robust, with an arena creator that allows a full arena to be customized right down to goal horns and stanchions. More logos have been included this year for uniform creation as well. All in all, the creation and customization offered this year is definitely a step up from previous years in the series, and a welcomed upgrade for EASHL and the game itself.

Take Your Club To The Top

As mentioned earlier, one of the biggest additions to this year’s game, and one of the focal points this year, was towards customization and creation. In EASHL, the best way to play the mode is with a team you’ve developed with and trust. This year’s progression system gives your individual player XP goals to strive for, with the goal being to unlock various pieces of equipment, celebrations and hair styles.

You also get to rank up your squad and home arena via playing time and wins. You start with your EASHL club in a small neighborhood rink, and as you progress with your squad you unlock and move on to bigger neighborhood rinks, eventually getting access to several NHL-styled rinks.

You also start with very bland and plain team uniforms that you can customize with greater depth as you rank up with your club.

Team Play Still Reigns Supreme

Hockey has and always will be a team sport. This inevitably rings true when playing the video game counterpart of the sport. When you play versus the AI, you can work team play to a maximum as you have full control over every player on your team. In EASHL, you obviously only control your one individual skater. This, in turn, means you need to be and play like a team player. If you don’t, then your team grade will be awful, you will never see the puck in drop-in games. Covering for one of your defensemen if they get out of position, smart passes, puck movement and good awareness of what’s happening on the ice pay off quite well when you’re clicking with your other teammates.

Addition Of New Player Classes

In NHL 16 we were introduced to player classes, which were definitely a surprising yet appreciated move away from overpowered, high-rated tiny danglers and 6-foot-7 beastly defenders that plagued past versions of EASHL. The classes worked out well, with the power forward class generally being the overall favorite among most players. All player classes from NHL 16 make a return this year, with the addition of four new classes: Hitting Sniper, Jumbo Playmaker, Two-Way Dangler and Puck Moving Defenseman.

Each of these new classes takes a piece of two to three classes and combines them into one. Because of the improvements in various areas of AI and general gameplay, you quickly get to see and understand how each new type of class can benefit you depending on your play style.

Gameplay Improvements Mean AI Improvements

One of the biggest problems with EASHL in NHL 16 was the defensive AI — or the lack of it. Awareness almost seemed non-existent. The defensemen would sometimes even lose the puck in the defensive zone when they were under zero pressure. They were a nuisance

This time around your defensive AI makes smarter decisions, more intuitive passes and generally looks to shut down areas of the ice that are danger zones.

Either way, you’re still going to want to find a squad where you have at least one person playing defense so that the flow of the game is controlled both offensively and defensively.

Improved Physics Shine In EASHL

The improved physics engine in NHL 17 makes me feel like hits, stick/puck play, and the new net battles are more in line with the authenticity that the game of hockey produces. Clean hits no longer have your victim picking the puck back up, or not losing it at all; instead, you have the satisfaction of seeing these players crumble to the ice as you skate away with the puck on your stick.

Intense battles in front of the net for position between players, although sometimes a little too long, is nice to see and can lead to a good tipped shot or screen of the goalie. Board play has been adjusted so that it happens when it makes sense. If a player holds up his opponent too long, a penalty is usually given. Passes that are too hard for a skater to receive bounce and glance off sticks. Poke checks have also been fine tuned and feel more rewarding. All in all, physics this year really make the game feel more dynamic and realistic.

Old Issues Not Yet Surpassed

Despite all the changes, both subtle and large, that were made in NHL 17, and more specifically year two of EASHL on the current-gen platform, a few issues still rear their ugly head from time to time.

The “circle snipe” (generally described as a wrist shot top shelf after a player circles around in the zone — though there are variations) still exists and plays too big a role in goal scoring. After taking a 1-0 lead in a game I played, the team I was up against scored five unanswered goals in a matter of three minutes by continuously pulling off this nasty “glitch” of sorts. Despite solid attempts to stop it from happening after the second goal, the opponent still managed to pull it off three more times.

One other annoyance is doing drop-ins and actually getting into a game. As it stands right now, nobody wants to play 3-on-3; players wait for the room to fill up, which in turn causes you to attempt about four to five drop-ins before you actually get a game going. These delays are usually due to either room timeouts or players leaving a room altogether to find another room. Your best bet, again, to get a good run of games going is to play with your friends or club.

Final Thoughts

The EASHL still delivers a fun experience time and again. Playing with friends or on a club really keeps the mode fresh via solid gameplay and customization unlocks, and it’s definitely a mode every NHL 17 player has to check out at least once.

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Joel Smith
A father, dedicated sports fan and gamer. FIFA, Madden, NHL, NBA 2K are what I play majority of the time. Manchester United runs in my blood. Chicago Bulls and Denver Broncos drape the walls of my man cave. Play hard, or don't play at all.