A big part of the NHL 17 experience is that it strives to provide a simulation of the big league as close as possible to the real thing. The hits, the dekes, the plays, everything is tweaked ever so slightly every year in the hope of making the game more and more true-to-life. A big part of that experience is the players’ ratings, those mystical numbers which will determine if your favourite team is being portrayed accurately or if your rivals are being unfairly boosted. Those ratings are an endless source of somewhat good-natured, but always entertaining debates between bloggers and commenters alike, trying to argue why their franchise player deserves a better rating than Sidney Crosby. It always ends up being about Sidney Crosby in the end.
It is with that in mind that we want to join the NHL 17 players ratings debate. We might be a bit late to the party, but bear in mind that we just launched this beautiful website and that the laws of time and space would have made it impossible for us to produce this at the start of the current NHL season like everyone else. The one advantage we have over our competitors however is that these ratings are, as far as we can confirm, adjusted to reflect the December roster update.
Of course, this top 15 is to be taken with a very large grain of salt, as ratings are extremely subjective and, in the end, these players are all professionals who, should I ever step onto the ice to play against, would probably crush me into the board until my bones were nothing but a fine powder.
15 Auston Matthews (Rating: 86)
This would have been a lot more controversial in October, as he was introduced to the game with a rating of 77, which was eventually upgraded to an 85 before finally settling at 86. That’s not a bad number for a 19-year-old rookie. It would look downright reasonable on any other rookie in any other season, but Matthews deserves better because of one thing. His exceptional play (as well as Mitch Marner’s) has brought the Leafs to the edge of respectability for the first time in a very long time. Toronto has been helped by solid coaching, but Matthews’s play has single-handedly made the Maple Leafs exciting to watch, a far cry from the morose franchise they were just a few years ago, marred by management which preferred to keep the money in their pocket by putting a cheap but mediocre team on ice if the tickets kept selling out.
I would also add that Matthews performance in the World Cup of Hockey alone should have put him close to a 90, but I guess that EA either missed the World Cup or didn’t give it much weight in their final evaluation.
14 Marc-André Fleury (Rating: 88)
I included Marc-André Fleury on this list despite the fact that his rating has already been adjusted. He started the season at a 90 and has been downgraded to an 88 with the latest roster update. I feel bad doing this to a man who was a major component of the Penguins’ Stanley Cup winning squad in 2009, but the truth is that he has often been inconsistent throughout his career. Fleury has the support of one of the NHL’s best team and it helps to boost his standing significantly. However, the individual numbers tell a different story.
While his goal against average is not terrible or anything, it’s also nowhere near the elite of the league. His save percentage has often been dangerously close to .900. He is still a good starter, but he has slowly been pushed out of the position by Matt Murray, who has posted some much better numbers than Fleury so far this year. Rumours have been sending Fleury out of Pittsburgh for a while now and while he could still help many teams, I see his career following a path similar to Ryan Miller’s.
13 Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (Rating: 86)
Many teams would kill to have a player with the potential of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins on their squad, but so far, that potential has not been fulfilled to its maximum. While his first complete season in the NHL showed promise, he never was able to match his own production in subsequent years. Some of it could be blamed on a shoulder problem which he eventually got taken care of, but he has been stagnating ever since.
That slump culminated with a real let down of a season last year, posting only 34 points in 55 games, but the Oilers had been playing below their talent as a whole. Edmonton has rebounded nicely this season, but RNH has only been a marginal part of that success. Most of it was thanks to Connor McDavid, as well as Cam Talbot’s exceptional goaltending. Nugent-Hopkins is still as talented as ever, but the output just doesn’t match his rating. Somewhere in the low 80s wouldn’t be too harsh.
12 Dion Phaneuf (Rating: 86)
Dion Phaneuf once was an elite defenseman, particularly during his early days in Calgary. His surprising offensive output was matched by his hard-hitting style and responsible defensive play. His plus-minus was in the positive more often than not, which is why Toronto thought they were getting one hell of a deal when they acquired him. Most Leafs fans I know were disappointed, maybe less so when compared to the similar disaster that was Mike Komisarek, but the Phaneuf who played in Toronto was not the same man who made his name with the Flames.
Phaneuf’s last few years have also been similarly disappointing, especially defensively. Having built his reputation on his solid body checks and his efficient defense, he has nonetheless only managed to finish with a positive +/- twice in the last ten years. Somehow, his aura does not seem to have diminished, especially not in EA’s eyes. While still an inspiring veteran for his team, his game might be deserving of a low 80 more than his current generous rating.
11 Jakub Voracek (Rating: 90)
Jakub Voracek was never much more than a second or third line player until his surprising season in 2014-2015. His offensive production soared to levels he never achieved before and Philadelphia fans rejoiced. Even poolers bought the hype, or at least the ones in my league did. Going in the first few rounds the next year, he slowed down and failed to match his total from the previous season by almost 30 points. Voracek had all the characteristics of a flash in the pan.
Despite this turn of events, EA was nice enough to forget that the 15-16 season ever happened, and graced him with a rating of 90. While the current campaign has been an improvement so far, he is still a -17 and isn't on pace to top 80 points. A rating of 90 should be reserved for the NHL elite, a circle to which Voracek does not currently belong. A rating around 86 or so would be more reflective of the man’s consistency.
10 Alexander Radulov (Rating: 83)
I understand that EA feels like Alexander Radulov is unproven in the NHL, having only played two full seasons in 2006-2007 and 2007-2008. Still a rookie at the time, his point total was adequate if unspectacular. However, once in the Kontinental Hockey League, Radulov developed his offensive talent to a point where he was one of the best players in the KHL. His stay in Russia resulted in many seasons of 1.5 points per game or more, in a league which is widely recognized as the second most competitive after the NHL.
Now back in North America, Radulov has finally fulfilled his potential, becoming the player that everybody thought he would be following a very productive junior career. As exciting and combative as ever, he is often the brightest point on a Montreal team which has slowly been going downhill after an exceptional start. Maybe EA did not want to take a chance with a generous rating for a player which they felt had very little NHL experience, but Radulov has proven that he deserves a sizable bump in next year’s edition.
9 Connor McDavid (Rating: 92)
Many pundits still say that Sidney Crosby is the best player in the NHL right now. They might be right, but one thing is certain: Connor McDavid isn’t too far behind. McDavid started the season with a rating of 88 before being bumped up to a 92 with the subsequent roster update, but Crosby is sitting there with a 95. Both players are extremely close in the race to the Art Ross trophy and, though McDavid played a bit more games, I would suggest that he is more vital to his team than Crosby. Sid has Evgeny Malkin as a backup and while Leon Draisaitl is extremely talented, he does not have the experience that Malkin does.
Furthermore, McDavid’s point mostly come from passes, a testament to his talent as a playmaker, instantly making anyone who plays with him better. Finally, he is also a very efficient two-way player, with his plus-minus being a commendable +21 as of this writing. I think EA wanted to play it safe after McDavid’s last season was shortened by an unfortunate injury, but his superb performance this year has proven that he should be up there at the top of the ratings.
8 Tomas Plekanec (Rating: 86)
Tomas Plekanec started at a rating of 87, which was even more outrageous, but even a revised 86 is still too high in my opinion. I am not sure what the problem is with Plekanec, but it seems like he is being constantly thrown into positions for which he is ill-equipped. While he is solid defensively, the Canadiens have stubbornly, over the years, tried to make him a second line and sometimes first line center, hoping that his offensive production would eventually match their lofty expectations.
His best point total so far was 70 in 82 games during the 2009-2010 season, and the decline has been steady since then. I think that Plekanec is still a good, but not great player. His woes seem to mostly come from the fact that he is badly utilized, as Montreal is still trying to fit him into a sniper role, while he would be more effective as a Guy Carbonneau-like defensive type. His current rating is reflective of Montreal’s former aspirations for Plekanec, but truth is he should be at least 5 points lower.
7 Mike Cammalleri (Rating: 87)
Mike Cammalleri’s stats standout mostly because of two seasons early in his career, one in Los Angeles and the other in Calgary. Both those seasons saw him reach the one point-per-game mark, something which he would never do again. In fact, ever since his stint in Montreal, Cammalleri has become an average forward occasionally capable of spectacular plays, but never steady enough to be a cornerstone of his team’s offensive squad.
An agile sniper when he wants to be, Cammalleri unfortunately carries a reputation as a somewhat selfish player. While he appears to have improved his passing game recently, he still lives or dies by his devastating wrist shot. The fact that he plays for the New Jersey Devils, a team historically known for its defensive plays, contrasts with his focus on attack and brings more attention to his bursts of offense. Never really known as a two-way forward, Cammalleri’s set of skills, while effective, is too limited for a rating in the high 80s.
6 Dougie Hamilton (Rating: 88)
Dougie Hamilton has slowly evolved into one of NHL’s top defenseman, being able to shine on a Calgary team which is far from being short on blueline talents. Along with teammates Mark Giordano and T.J. Brodie, he forms a formidable squad of defensemen. Giordano is himself rated at a 90, while Brodie shares his rating of 88 and yet, I would argue that Hamilton is the most complete of the three.
While Giordano is very effective defensively with a plus-minus of +11, Brodie has somehow accumulated a deficit of -24 so far this year, but remains effective as a player capable of launching attacks with his precise passes. Hamilton, on the other hand, is a happy medium between offense and defense, being responsible with his defensive duties while still putting up 34 points so far this year. If he keeps it up, he could even surpass his previous two seasons’ output, reminding us that he is only 23 years old and still has room to grow. Hamilton’s best years are still in front of him and yet, he is already part of the elite. If I had to pick only one out of Calgary’s top three defensemen, I would go for Hamilton. His rating should be at least equal to that of Giordano.
5 Phil Kessel (Rating: 89)
I feel like Phil Kessel has been one of the most consistently underrated players in the NHL for as far as I can remember. This is a guy who was able to get 80 points or more twice while playing for Toronto, always the best player on a team stuck in a rut and yet he acquired a reputation as a lazy player. His first complete year with the Pittsburgh Penguins seemed to give his detractors even more fuel, but his exceptional performance during the playoffs finally vindicated him. Or did it?
Despite having nearly one point per game during the playoffs and winning the Stanley Cup, Kessel was still left out of the American squad during the World Cup of Hockey. EA apparently agrees with this omission, saddling Kessel with an 89 while his more famous teammates, Malkin and Crosby, were given a 93 and a 95 respectively. Nobody is going to pretend that he is as complete as Crosby or as gritty as Malkin, but surely he has shown by now that he should be somewhere in the 90s.
4 Erik Karlsson (Rating: 92)
Erik Karlsson is barely 26 years old and yet, he has already won the Norris trophy twice. Defensemen in the NHL often have a reputation as late bloomers, but Karlsson has already shown that he is the real deal. Endorsed by the legendary Bobby Orr, he is an incredibly fast skater who is able to carry the puck all over the ice while being quick enough to come back to his position after a turnover. Furthermore, his offensive numbers are out of this world for a defense, with half of his seasons being very close to reaching a one point-per-game ratio.
Quite frankly, I would argue that Karlsson is the top defenseman in the NHL right now. Though his defensive play is only slightly behind behemoths like Shea Webber or Drew Doughty, his offensive style is so far ahead that it’s not even comparable. Bobby Orr once compared him to Paul Coffey and I think that the comparison is fitting. If he keeps up this rate, Karlsson is Hall of Fame bound. He should have the highest defenseman rating in the game, bar none.
3 Zach Parise (Rating: 89)
I was going to say that Zach Parise’s last season was disappointing, especially so since he was a part of my fantasy team, but the truth is that he has been playing below expectations for a while now. His 94 points season in 2008-2009, followed by an 82 points campaign the next year, gave him a pretty solid reputation as an exceptional offensive talent, but he never did quite reach those heights again.
His production this year is on its way to match his underwhelming total from last year and that is even though his team is at the very stop of the standings right now. As of this writing, he is ninth on his team’s list of scorers and yet, Ryan Suter is the only player above him who has a higher rating. Granlund, the top player on the Wild, has an 85. It seems to me like Parise earned a reputation early on in his career and EA never really bothered to check back with him to see if he still deserved it.
2 Patrik Laine (Rating: 85)
A rating of 85 for Patrik Laine is seriously low and for many reasons. First, he is only 18 years old and yet, he plays like someone who has ten times his experience. Second, he is tied for second in terms of points on the Winnipeg Jets, despite the fact that he missed a bunch of games because of a concussion. Third, that concussion has not slowed him down one bit, putting his goal production high enough to be in contention for the Rocket Richard trophy, alongside players like Ovechkin, Crosby, Pacioretty and Tarasenko. And did I mention that he is only 18?
Just like Auston Matthews, Laine is still a rookie and yet he is already the franchise player of his team. The difference is that Matthews’ Leafs are constantly improving, while Laine plays for a Winnipeg team which seems to be having all kinds of difficulties this season. It is indeed very hard to rate a player when he hasn’t played a game in the NHL yet, but the latest roster update should have sent his score around 90.
1 Jaromir Jagr (Rating: 87)
Sure, Jaromir Jagr has slowed down a little bit from his prime, but the man is now 45 years old and still plays like someone half his age. He is still making his way through the NHL record book and his hard work is an inspiration for the Florida Panthers, a team packed with youngsters that can only profit from his experience. Jaromir Jagr is a legend, a player which managed to be successful in the NHL before making his way to the KHL for three seasons. Back in the NHL, he forged a great second half to his career, currently being ranked second in terms of career regular season points. One can only imagine how high his totals would be if he had stayed in North America for those three years.
He is not the first NHL player to make an impact at his age (Teemu Selanne comes to mind), but Jagr has done so while maintaining a level of excellence which would make most NHL players jealous. A man of Jagr’s status, as some kind of lifetime achievement award, should get a permanent rating of 95 for as long as he remains active. His current work by itself would be worth at the very least an 89 and his hairstyle could even bump it to a 90, but to me, that isn’t enough. I say that Jagr deserves to be treated like the unique, once-in-a-lifetime talent that he is, and should be put in a category of his own.