Examining player ratings in popular video games has become an increasingly popular practice. EA Sports has long been at the forefront of marketing through player ratings with its Madden franchise; players react to their own ratings with either disgust on approval on social media and make it a point of pride. 2K Studios has also upped its presence online by generating ratings-based discussion to the point where Ronnie2K, the franchise's social media and marketing head, was asked about ratings at Harrison Barnes' wedding. More and more players are becoming increasingly aware of their rating in the video game, and, because most of today's generation of players grew up playing the game, they continue to do so - and take notice when there's a perceived issue with their rating.
EA Sports' NHL franchise has lagged behind in that aspect, primarily because hockey players are too humble for their own good to even show any sort of personality and/or disapproval about a rating. However, as with Madden, EA is having players tweet out their rating as a marketing ploy. Some - such as Calgary Flames goaltender Eddie Lack - vowed to use it as a motivational tool, while others felt satisfied with the rating. The franchise introduced a new rating system for NHL 18 and, as such, there is going to be some kinks. None are worse than the 15 ratings below, however.
15 Auston Matthews (87)
We completely get the idea that EA Sports might not to rush to give a young player a 90-plus rating, but the fact Auston Matthews is an 87 overall, while established, but less talented centers, like Jonathan Toews and Patrice Bergeron, are rated higher is a bit of a joke. The 19 year old Matthews scored 40 goals as a rookie, which was good enough for third among all players in the league. Coincidentally, a few sports betting books in Vegas have him as the third most likely to win the Hart Trophy in 2017-18.
Other publications have him as a top-10 center in the league. The consensus seems to be that the kid is closer to Connor McDavid than he is someone like Toews, who is a great player, but has been limited offensively in recent years. Toews scored just 21 goals last season, just over half of what Matthews accomplished with better linemates, but he gets the benefit of the doubt due to his Stanley Cups. Matthews should easily be a 90.
14 Joe Pavelski (88)
A former seventh-round selection of the San Jose Sharks, Joe Pavelski is a true success story. The Wisconsin native rose from little-known draft pick to captain of a very good team and, at one point, was considered one of the league's best goal scorers. In fact, Pavelski topped 30 goals in three consecutive seasons prior to this past season and notched a career-high 41 tallies in 2013-14. However, it's apparent the 33 year old is on a downward trajectory.
He had 78 points in 2015-16, but recorded only 68 this past season and it became noticeable that he lost a step in his skating stride. Yet, EA Sports ranked him as one of the league's best right wingers at 88 overall. Perhaps better served as a center, Pavelski has been benefitting from Joe Thornton's playmaking ability while on the wing, but his play has tailed off as Thornton's has. It wouldn't be surprising to see Pavelski dip below 60 points this season and that 88 rating will look even worse.
13 Corey Crawford (87)
Save for maybe members of the New Jersey Devils (for whatever reason), you can make the case that the Chicago Blackhawks players are among the most grossly overrated in NHL 18. The same is true in reality. The team has had disastrous playoff appearances in back-to-back years, but continue to have the benefit of the doubt due to its dynasty-like run of three Stanley Cups in six seasons. Perhaps only bettered by Jonathan Toews and Brent Seabrook, Corey Crawford's reputation has benefited greatly from the Hawks previous playoff success.
The former Moncton Wildcat played behind some good defenses in recent years, but last year, with an aging core, Crawford posted a 2.55 goals against average, which was his worst mark since 2011-12. Yet, he's one of the league's top-10 goaltenders according to NHL 18.
12 Connor McDavid (93)
We can't argue for a higher rating for Auston Matthews without pushing for the same for Connor McDavid, who is undeniably the most talented player in the league. Sure, McDavid has a 93 overall, which appears to be the highest in the league based on EA Sports' ratings rollout thus far, but why even bother having ratings go to 99 overall if McDavid isn't going to be the player to reach that mark?
Sidney Crosby is also a 93 overall and you could perhaps make the case he's a better all-around player than McDavid, but the latter has an impact on the game that can't even be defined. It looks as though McDavid's rating isn't higher due to terrible ratings in fighting skill, aggressiveness, and shot blocking, but everything else should be 99. His speed is only 96 and just try and name a more perfect skater in the league?
11 Jonathan Drouin (81)
Thus far, EA Sports has only officially released the top 10 rated players at each position on its website. However, the NHL 18 Beta version had revamped rankings for all players and, unless there is any last-minute changes, it appears as though one of the worst ratings is the 81 overall it handed new Montreal Canadiens acquisition Jonathan Drouin.
The talented French Canadian was an 83 overall in last year's game and had a breakthrough season in 2016-17 with a career-high 53 points in 73 games. It's clear that when he's on his game, there's few players more explosive than Drouin. It's hard to see him not thriving with more playing time in Montreal, at which point the 81 overall will look even more absurd than it already does. He should have at least been an 84.
10 Artemi Panarin (86)
Artemi Panarin followed up an impressive rookie season with a similar campaign in 2016-17. After earning the Calder Memorial Trophy in 2015-16 with 77 points, the Russian winger recorded 74 points last year, but was shipped out of Chicago in exchange for Brandon Saad, who the team felt could contribute more in the playoffs. Panarin, meanwhile, had seven points in seven playoff games in 2016; the entire team was to blame in 2017, not just Panarin.
Many suggest he benefitted from playing alongside Patrick Kane, who EA Sports' accurately rated 92 overall, but it's clear Kane benefited from Panarin as well, to the point where he wasn't exactly thrilled about losing his linemate. It's not so much that Panarin's 86 overall rating is awful, it's that he's rated lower than the likes of Taylor Hall, Johnny Gaudreau, and Max Pacioretty, which doesn't make much sense to anyone who watched all four of those players last season.
9 Nazem Kadri (82)
One of the other slights we noticed in the NHL 18 Beta was the 82 overall rating given to Toronto Maple Leafs center Nazem Kadri. Sure, the pest is hated by most of the league, but that shouldn't diminish his rating; in fact, it should help it, especially considering he had a career year offensively in 2016-17.
A former first-round pick of the Maple Leafs, Kadri's development hasn't exactly been as planned, but he thrived under the shadow of Auston Matthews last year as he scored a career-high 32 goals and added 29 assists for 61 points in 82 games. By comparison, Toews (sorry to harp on the point) was rated 89, despite having three fewer points than Kadri last season. Reputation obviously plays heavily into the ratings, but it would be nice if EA Sports could acknowledge rising talent.
8 Gabriel Landeskog (85)
It's clear that EA Sports doesn't pay much attention to one poor season when giving out its ratings, and that's a good idea, for the most part. However, an extremely disappointing season should affect a player's overall at least somewhat, given the game adjusts its ratings every year. Gabriel Landeskog's overall did drop a few points for NHL 18, but it wasn't nearly enough. The Colorado Avalanche winger recorded 65 points in 2013-14 but has seen his point totals dip in each of the next three seasons from 59 to 53 to a ridiculously-low 33 points in 2016-17.
Colorado was a disaster last year, so perhaps EA gave the entire team a pass for poor performances, but it's strikingly odd to see Landeskog ranked as the 10th best left winger in the game when he posted bottom-six numbers last season. It's hard to imagine him being any worse in 2017-18, but it's also hard to imagine his play on the ice warranting an 85 overall rating.
7 Jack Eichel (83)
The NHL is more and more becoming a young man's game and the EA Sports franchise should reflect that. Guys like McDavid, Matthews, and Zach Werenski should be rated appropriately and you can add Jack Eichel to that list. No, the former second overall pick isn't near one of the best players in the game as of yet, but you can certainly envision a scenario in which he might be there by the end of the 2017-18 season.
The American was hampered by an injury to start last season and was a little slow out of the gate, but was one of the more productive players in the second half of the season. He finished the year with 57 points in 61 games and appears poised to finish among the top 10 scorers in the league next season if he can stay healthy. You simply can't argue he's less talented than Gabriel Landeskog, which is what his rating suggests.
6 Alex Ovechkin (92)
We witnessed first-hand the decline of Alex Ovechkin last season. He was nearly invisible in the playoffs, recording just eight points in 13 games and being limited in regard to ice-time. He also scored only 33 goals, which is his lowest full-season total since 2010-11, when he scored 32. In comparison, he also scored 32 in the 48-game, lockout-shortened season of 2012-13. We all knew it was coming; Ovechkin is 31 years old and doesn't exactly keep himself in great shape. He's lost a step and it wouldn't be a shock to see him continue to decline.
Yet, according to EA Sports, he's still the best left winger in the game and one of the top players in all of hockey with a 92 overall rating. In fact, he's even better - and thus more important - than Erik Karlsson, who has a 91 overall. Personally, we can't think of any team that would rather than Ovechkin than Karlsson heading into this upcoming season.
5 Shea Weber (89)
When the Montreal Canadiens dealt beloved defenseman P.K. Subban to the Nashville Predators for Shea Weber, practically the entire hockey world predicted it would be a disastrous trade for Les Habitants - even the team's fans, who were enraged to see Subban shipped out of town. Fast forward over a year later and Subban helped the Predators reach its first Stanley Cup Finals, while Weber, despite the strong regular season, couldn't do much to help the Canadiens get past the first round of the playoffs.
Yet, because pedigree apparently means a hell of a lot for EA Sports, Weber still has an 89 overall rating and is ranked ahead of Subban. Weber has the advantage in shot power, naturally, but it's hard to see how he earns such a high rating in other categories.
4 Taylor Hall (87)
When healthy, Taylor Hall showed flashes of being of the game's best left wingers while playing with the Edmonton Oilers. The trade from Edmonton to New Jersey was supposed to propel him into superstardom as he would become the go-to player in a smaller market team with less pressure. That wasn't at all what happened, but that doesn't matter to EA Sports because why should reality be factored into NHL 18 player ratings?
Hall was given an 87 overall rating, which ranks him as the third-best left winger in the game, ahead of Brad Marchand, Johnny Gaudreau, and Artemi Panarin, who were all more valuable to their own team last season and had better years than Hall, who scored just 20 goals and had 53 points in 72 games. In fact, over the past five seasons, Hall has only 103 goals. So, yeah, he's a 20-goal scorer who for some reason gets an 87 overall.
3 Ryan Suter (89)
Players that are aging and slowing down should be rated as such. Like Shea Weber, Ryan Suter, a former teammate of Weber, is noticeably getting worse in each of the past few seasons. He's still a stud on the blueline who can eat up minutes, but he has certainly lost a step in regard to his speed and didn't quite have the successful offensive year last year that he had the year prior.
Suter posted 51 points in 2015-16, but had just 40 last season and will be lucky to reach that number again in 2017-18. Yet, according to EA Sports, he's the sixth-best defenseman in the league, ahead of Kris Letang, Roman Josi, Alex Pietrangelo, and P.K. Subban. That 89 overall rating is going to look incredibly out of place by the end of the season.
2 Cory Schneider (89)
If you need any further proof that pedigree means something in EA Sports' ratings, look no further to the New Jersey Devils. We already poked holes in the absurd 87 overall rating for Taylor Hall, but there's an even worse rating on the Devils and it belongs to Cory Schneider. The former Vancouver Canucks backup stabilized the goaltender position for the Devils in recent years and proved himself among the game's elite netminders in 2015-16 after posting a 2.15 goals against average and .924 save percentage, both of which are phenomenal numbers considering he played on a non-playoff team.
Yet, Scheneider was nowhere near that good in 2016-17 and the Devils suffered for it. His numbers dropped to a 2.82 GAA and .908 save percentage, yet his overall maintained at 89, while EA noted on its goalie rankings list that "there may not be a more positionally-sound goalie in the league than Cory Schneider." He has the fourth-highest goaltender ranking, which is ridiculous.
1 Erik Karlsson (91)
It's hard to imagine arguing the game's top-rated defenseman should be rated even higher but that's what we're going to do. There are still some old-school players and analysts who say Drew Doughty is a notch above Erik Karlsson, but not only is that flat-out wrong, it's completely absurd. Karlsson is the type of defenseman the league hasn't seen since Bobby Orr and he's in a league above those like Doughty, Brent Burns, and Victor Hedman, as good as they are.
The smooth-skating Swede was a star in last year's playoffs and if Ottawa was anything more than a mediocre team, he could have easily led them to a Stanley Cup; he almost did anyway. He's easily the third-best player in the league behind Connor McDavid and Sidney Crosby and if 99 overall is the gold standard, Karlsson should at least be a 95.