It was announced tonight at the 2017 NHL Awards that NHL 18’s cover athlete this year is none other than Edmonton Oilers superstar Connor McDavid. And much like how the two-year pro from Richmond Hill, Ontario, has breathed life back into one of hockey’s premiere Canadian franchises, NHL 18 has looked to McDavid for inspiration in all the right ways. I was recently able to go hands-on with the game, and there were several major takeaways from my brief time with it that give a spark to the series’ style of play.

The first has to do with the gameplay itself. In an attempt to mimic McDavid, Auston Matthews, and the other tremendous young talents that have permeated hockey, pulling off stylish shots on net has never been easier. The fancy stickwork from previous games returns, but is now easier to do with more simplistic joystick movement which can be learned through a new series of tutorials. More importantly, however, is the increased repertoire for more skillful players. Kicking the puck off your skate to feed a backhand, turning the puck on edge and flipping it over the shoulder of a goalie, and the kind of no-look passes and shots that will leave defensemen and goalies alike befuddled are now represented here beautifully. As well, new reactions from every player on the ice will let you know just how impressive some of these moves are.

Of course, a feature many have long waited for is something to even the ice with all those offensive skill-stick superstars, and for the first time ever, the series is touting a defensive skill stick as well. That means when you’re skating backwards as the lone hope on a 2-on-1 back the other way, you can swing your stick back and forth and try to take away both the shot and the passing lane if you’re good enough. Or maybe just on the power play, by swinging your stick back and forth, you can kill off a few extra seconds as the defenseman on the point has to hesitate before he tries to pass it down low. This is a huge game changer for defensive players, and shows NHL 18 is making huge strides with stick play in the series.

Another major new element is a brand new game mode that feels like a throwback to the Wayne Gretzky or NHL Hitz days of arcade hockey. The brand new NHL Threes combines bone-crunching hits and crazy shots with the three-on-three play of the NHL’s relatively new overtime rules. To amp up the pace of play, the rink is smaller than a normal hockey rink, most penalties are turned off (and the few that are called always lead to a penalty shot), and there are never any faceoffs. If someone scores a goal, the other team automatically gets the puck when the action resumes. Some pucks are special, being worth two or three goals, or can even remove goals from your opposition. You know this mode is different from the second you start it up, with different announcers and a presentation package that resembles a carnival more than a hockey rink.

The 3-on-3 gameplay of the NHL’s overtime hockey rules aren’t just inspiring a new mode, though, as old modes are taking a cue from this faster style of play as well. The long time fan-favorite mode EASHL is now also going to tout a 3-on-3 mode to help accommodate the fans out there who have trouble finding a full squad of players on a nightly basis. This means not only will you have more games full entirely of human players now, but also the fast-paced action of the NHL overtime period will carry over into the entire EASHL experience from the start. If you’re fortunate enough to have a whole squad, don’t worry, the normal EASHL 6-on-6 action is still there—but for those of us with only a couple buddies ever around at the same time, this is exactly what we’ve been waiting for.

If none of these modes appeal to you, and you prefer to go for Franchise still instead, don’t worry, you’ve also got some new tweaks there. You can choose to play right from the get-go as the new Las Vegas Golden Knights and hold a fantasy draft that allows you to build your team out of the 30 pre-existing NHL franchises. Maybe you’ll help even things out by kicking off the 32nd NHL franchise and bring balance finally to the conferences. Or, be like me, and try to create a dynasty out of an original six team (let’s go Rangers). The choice is yours.

Hockey is undergoing a revolution right now in terms of playstyle and the talent that is flooding into the sport. After my brief hands-on time with NHL 18, it is my belief that this series is following suit with the fast, fun, frantic new NHL Threes mode, the new moves available to the game’s most skilled players, and even three-on-three gameplay making it’s way to EASHL. When hockey has a revolution, the NHL series has a renaissance, and it looks like this year is shaping up to be the perfect time for yet another one.

NHL 18 will release on Xbox One and PlayStation 4 sometime this fall.

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