If you’re a hockey fanatic like I am, you don’t need someone, especially a video game, explaining to you why a slapper from the point on the power play is a great idea if you’ve got bodies in front of the net looking for a deflection. If you’re not a hockey connoisseur, however, even that sentence probably has you scratching your head.

Well, the guys behind the NHL franchise get that not everyone is as obsessed with power play percentages and puck luck as I am. To be honest, I wasn’t always this way. Video games such as NHL 94 sparked my passion for — and understanding of — my most beloved sport.

Wanting to get back to that pedigree, NHL 16’s biggest innovation this year isn’t about tweaked physics or mascots in the stands (although those are there). It’s about finding ways to help newcomers develop an understanding for the sport we love, much the way the games of yesteryear did for a 9-year-old kid who didn’t understand quite how big it was when the Rangers won the Stanley Cup in 1994.

A new option in NHL 16 allows gamers to turn on a special HUD that appears beneath each player you’re controlling and certain spots on the ice. This HUD will tell you when you should pass and who the pass will go to, and where you should skate to if you don’t have the puck. Most impressively, the HUD will draw a line from your stick to the net if you’re in a shooting situation to let you know your odds on whether the shot will result in a goal or a save, or miss the net altogether. And it all happens seamlessly in real time.

This display system is a vital new tool in NHL 16’s attempts to teach players how best to play their game, as well as how to play hockey. The hope is that you’ll learn the highest percentage chances for scoring in key situations, where to skate to successfully kill off penalties, and how to most efficiently play the game. Then, newcomers will have a better grasp of both hockey and the video game, and perhaps learn to love it. Who knows, we veterans might even learn a thing or two.

Even though I’ve been playing NHL for years, I was impressed with how well the new HUD assist blended into the gameplay. I never felt like the directions were a distraction for me as an experienced player. I was even happy they were there because I was more sure of myself when taking certain shots, and I started correcting some bad habits I’d fallen into through the years.

This year, most people would’ve been fine with NHL just fixing things that were broken or restoring everything that was missing from last year’s game. So it’s great to see EA Canada’s innovations educate and grow not only the company’s fanbase, but the sport’s fanbase as well. 

NHL 16 is coming in September for Xbox One and Playstation 4.

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