2011 NHL Draft: PHT’s pick-by-pick analysis

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The future is now.

With the trades wins blowing and prospects eagerly awaiting to hear their name called, the NHL Draft is when all 30 teams have the chance to improve for the future. Trades for draft picks, salary dumps, trades for the future, trades for the present– oh, and 30 prospects joining the NHL. It’ll be an exciting night for all hockey fans.

We’ll be here updating this post with instant analysis for the entire first round. You can also find more real-time information at NBC Sports’ NHL Draft HQ!

FIRST ROUND

1. Edmonton Oilers: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Center (Red Deer, WHL): The most dynamic playmaker in the entire draft will be setting up last year’s #1 overall pick Taylor Hall for years to come. There are some questions if he’ll be able to step into the NHL next season, but he’s already added 10 pounds of muscle over the offseason. Every part of his game is NHL-ready today; we’ll see if his body is ready in the fall. Whether he’s in Edmonton this year or next, he’ll be an offensive force in the NHL for a long, long time. Here’s a complete profile for the newest member of the Oilers.

2. Colorado Avalanche: Gabriel Landeskog, Left Wing (Kitchener, OHL): Colorado adds a player who is generally considered the most NHL-ready player in this year’s draft. He decided to get accustomed to the North American game by playing the 2010-11 season with Kitchener. Landeskog brings a solid overall game to the table and seems like he has the market covered in that beloved buzzword of “intangibles.” TSN compares him to Brenden Morrow, but Landeskog probably hopes to follow his Swedish hero Peter Forsberg’s footsteps by becoming an elite player in Colorado. For more on the Avs’ new Swede, click here.

3. Florida Panthers: Jonathan Huberdeau, Center (Saint John, QMJHL): Last year, the Panthers went after a big blueliner who they think will be a defensive cornerstone for the future when they selected Eric Gudbranson. With Huberdeau, Dale Tallon and Co. should have a top flight center for the future. One of the best two-way players in the draft, Huberdeau exploded on the scene as the season went along. As part of the Saint John Sea Dogs juggernaut, Huberdeau was the best player on a team stacked with blue-chip prospects. When the pressure intensified in the QMJHL and Memorial Cup playoffs, he raised his game to another level. After a great draft last season, the Panthers are setting themselves up nicely for the future.  For more, check out his draft profile.

4. New Jersey Devils: Adam Larsson, Defense (Skelleftea, Sweden): Could this be the steal of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft? That question probably doesn’t matter much to the Devils, a team whose defensive corps have been decimated by retirement and free agency since the lockout ended. Larsson draws comparisons to Swedish legend Nicklas Lidstrom, but it might be more functional to compare him to 2009 No. 2 overall pick Victor Hedman. He might not be as gifted as Hedman, but he boasts a superior understanding of the defensive side of the game. His extensive international experience and time with Skelleftea indicate that he could jump to the NHL as early as next season, but either way, the Devils have their defenseman of the future. Read more about the big Swedish blueliner here.

5. New York Islanders: Ryan Strome, Center (Niagara, OHL):  International Scouting Services had Strome ranked as the 2nd best playmaker in the entire draft and within minutes, pundits were already dreaming about Strome making sweet music with John Tavares on Long Island. He has great hands, can make plays in tight spaces, and has improved dramatically as he’s improved his conditioning and his willingness to go into the dirty areas of the rink.

6. Ottawa Senators: Mika Zibanejad, Center (Djurgarden, Sweden): The Senators wanted a big center so they hope Zibanejad fits that bill. He’s a feisty player who competes at each end of the ice and is noted for being a solid guy in the faceoff circle as well. TSN reports that he has a chance to compete for an NHL job next season, which might not be out of the realm of possibility considering his responsible two-way game and the transitional stage Ottawa is going through.

7. Winnipeg Jets: Mark Scheifele, Center (Barrie, OHL): The Winnipeg Jets’ first pick of their reincarnation was a shocker. Most had the Barrie Colts center going somewhere in the middle of the first round, but the Jets wanted tabbed the potential power forward at the 7th overall pick. He got better as the season went along—mostly because he’s a power forward who likes to use his body on the ice. As he grew, his game grew with him.

8. Philadelphia Flyers (from CBJ): Sean Couturier, Center (Drummondville, QMJHL): The Flyers saved Couturier from the “Cam Fowler syndrome” as Philadelphia picked him up with the 8th overall pick. As early as yesterday, this pick belonged to Columbus and they were looking to improve their young team. Now, the Flyers have added yet another good, young, talented body to go with other gifted forwards like Claude Giroux and James Van Riemsdyk. If Couturier develops like most scouts project, he’ll be mentioned in the same breath.

9. Boston Bruins (from TOR): Dougie Hamilton, Defense (Niagara, OHL): There’s something weird about the Stanley Cup champions selecting in the top 10 of the draft. When Hamilton dropped down to the 9th overall pick, the Cup champs watched the 2nd best defenseman fall into their lap. The big, physical defenseman has a booming slap shot from the point and a long reach in his own zone. If he becomes a little more consistent, he’ll be top pairing defenseman in a few years. That’s a top pairing guy for a team that just won the Cup. That Phil Kessel trade is looking better and better for the Bruins every single day.

10. Minnesota Wild: Jonas Brodin, Defense (Farjestad, Sweden): A smart, young defenseman, Brodin gets it done in his own zone by using his hockey IQ. Think of a player who’s good at reading the play, getting in passing lanes, and using a poke check. On the plus side, he’s a player who already has NHL level poise at only 17-years-old. On the other hand, he won’t be able to contribute for the Wild until he puts on some muscle.

11. Colorado Avalanche (from STL):  Duncan Siemens, Defense (Saskatoon, WHL): A true defensive defenseman, Siemens is never going to be the kind of player that dazzles with his offensive ability. But in acquiring the pick from the St. Louis Blues in the Johnson/Stewart trade, Siemens is the type of player who could fill the Adam Foote void when the Avs bring him up to the NHL level in a few seasons. He’s big, physical, and has a knack for annoying the opposition. Perfect qualities for a potential shutdown blueliner.

12. Carolina Hurricanes: Ryan Murphy, Defense (Kitchener, OHL): When watching Kitchener play, Murphy is the kind of player who would absolutely jump off the screen. He is as offensively talented as any other player in the draft—and certainly the most dangerous offensive blueliner in the draft. The only question about Murphy is his defensive ability. Regardless, with his skating ability and the post-lockout rules limiting obstruction, Murphy will be the quarterback of an NHL power play one day.

13. Calgary Flames: Sven Bartschi, Left Wing (Portland, WHL): The Swiss-born forward doesn’t bring much size to the table (he’s listed at 5-11, 175 lbs.) but Bartschi is a skilled player who excelled in the WHL because he was willing to go to tough areas of the ice anyway. In a post-lockout NHL that demands skill as much as – if not more than – size, he could be a nice asset for a Flames franchise that hasn’t been able to stock up on many first round picks.

14. Dallas Stars: Jamie Oleksiak, Defense (Northeastern, H-East): With the last lottery selection, the Stars opted to help out their defensive corps with a guy who’s big enough to cover the entire blueline by himself. The 6’7” blueliner could probably touch the boards on either side of the ice if he stood in the middle of the ice. Translation: he’s going to be tough to skate around when he has a hockey stick in his hand. Even though he’s a huge physical specimen, he’s a much better skater than people expect. Size and skating ability will translate into a promising prospect every time.

15. New York Rangers: J.T. Miller, Center (U.S. Under-18): Miller is an example of the “Mario Lemieux effect,” one of those Pittsburgh-area (Miller was born in Ohio) players who was probably inspired to play the game by the Penguins legend. He was considered one of the three best players for Team USA at the 2011 Under-18 World Championships.

16. Buffalo Sabres: Joel Armia, Right Wing (Assat, Finland): Darcy Regier hasn’t picked a European since 2006 — a streak that ended when Buffalo selected the offensive-minded Joel Armia from the Finnish Elite League. He’s been playing with men and was still able to put up 18 goals in 48 games; his hard, accurate shot will translate to any league in the world. The 6’3” has enough skill to have scouts wondering just how high his upside can be.

17. Montreal Canadiens: Nathan Beaulieu, Defense (Saint John, QMJHL): One of the most important rules for ever Montreal Canadiens’ GM to remember: if there’s a good prospect available from Quebec, pick him. In Beaulieu, the Habs picked up a very good defenseman on a great junior team. The great skater has size, intelligence, and skills all rolled into one package — a combination that doesn’t fall to the 17th overall pick very often. If he can eliminate any questions about his consistency, then bleu blanc et rouge will be happy with their pick.

18. Chicago Blackhawks: Mark McNeill, Center (Prince Albert, WHL): The Blackhawks are stockpiling prospects (they just traded Troy Brouwer for Washington’s 26 pick) but McNeill might be the best they get for some time. McNeill is a fast player with some promising upside; he went from scoring 24 points in 09-10 to 81 in 10-11. He’s a big, strong center who could end up being a nice pick for the ‘Hawks.

19. Edmonton Oilers (from LA): Oscar Klefbom, Defense (Farjestad, Sweden): Klefbom is an interesting prospect because the respect he’s earned is almost all on potential. He didn’t play very much last season in the Swedish Elite League as he was on one of the best (and deepest) teams in the league. But despite only two points last season, scouts love his skating and offensive potential. Some people even say he has the highest ceiling of any Swedish player in the draft. While we don’t think he’ll ever be as good as Adam Larsson, he’s still an intriguing prospect with daunting physical tools. The selection adds to the defensive depth the Oilers started to rebuild when they acquired Colten Teubert in the same trade (Dustin Penner).

20. Phoenix Coyotes: Connor Murphy, Defense (Kitchener, OHL) – Murphy is considered a “project player” who might not be ready for NHL action for some time. TSN notes that Murphy didn’t get to play very often in the last couple seasons, dealing with a serious back injury. It seems like a gamble for the Coyotes, but let’s be fair: we’re in the gamble zone now. Murphy’s father is former NHLer Gord Murphy.

21. Ottawa Senators (from NSH): Stefan Noeson, Right Wing (Plymouth, OHL): The Senators used the pick they acquired in the Mike Fisher trade to draft another defensive-minded forward with offensive upside.  Noesen ended up leading his team with 34 goals, but the competitive winger will make his money by developing into a well-rounded pest.

22. Toronto Maple Leafs (from ANA): Tyler Biggs, Right Wing (U.S. Under-18): Instead of picking at #22, the Anaheim Ducks traded their first round pick to the Toronto Maple Leafs for the 30th and 39th picks in the 2011 NHL Draft. In Biggs, the Leafs selected a big, mean nasty player—it shouldn’t be a huge shock that Brian Burke trade up in the draft for the opportunity to acquire him. He can grind on the boards and drop the gloves with the best of them. All he’ll need to do is work on his quickness.

23. Pittsburgh Penguins: Joe Morrow, Defense (Portland, WHL): Ray Shero is a fan of defensemen who can skate well, play defense and score a bit. Morrow might not be that far above average when it comes to scoring ability, but he improved his skating ability and was already known as a capable defensive defenseman. It might be a while until he makes the NHL, so a spotty junior career shouldn’t hurt his chances too much.

24. Ottawa Senators (from DET): Matt Puempel, Left Wing (Peterborough, OHL): The Senators were able to acquire their third pick of the first round by trading their 35th and 48th picks to acquire #24 overall from the Red Wings. Matt Puempel has the skills to be a pure sniper with his excellent (and accurate) shot. He’ll still have some work to do with the Petes as he rounds out the rest of his game, but if he can skate better and learn to back check a little smarter.

25. Toronto Maple Leafs (from PHI): Stuart Percy, Defense (Mississauga, OHL): Percy is a steady, responsible defenseman who helped Mississauga St. Michael’s make it to the Memorial Cup final. Percy also has a solid sense of humor, apparently.

26. Chicago Blackhawks (from WASH): Phillip Danault, Left Wing, (Victoriaville, QMJHL): The Blackhawks sent Troy Brouwer to the Washington Capitals for the opportunity to select Danault in the first round. Danault is a gritty, in-your-face forward who can do work on the PK and will succeed by working harder than his opponents. The major question surrounding him is his offensive upside. If he can make the transition to center, he may just end up growing into a Troy Brouwer type player when his potential reaches its peak.

27. Tampa Bay Lightning: Ladislav Namestnikov, Center (London, OHL): Well, a Russian player finally went in the draft … sort of. Namestnikov has played for Russia before but also grew up in Michigan, where he made some roots with Lightning GM Steve Yzerman. He has some slick skills but might take some time to adjust to the North American game. Want another sign that there were some Red Wings/Russian connections involved? Slava Kozlov is his uncle.

28. Minnesota Wild (from SJ): Zack Phillips, Center (Saint John, QMJHL): The Wild used the first round pick they acquired in the Brent Burns blockbuster to land talented center Zack Phillips. The grinding center had been pegged to be a higher draft pick at the beginning of the season, but questions about his skating are the concerns that made him drop to 28th overall. He had great hands, he’s not afraid to crash the net, and knows how to find the soft spots in the ice for scoring opportunities. His hockey IQ is there—he’ll just need to keep working on his feet.

29. Vancouver Canucks: Nicklas Jensen, Left Wing (Oshawa, OHL): Jensen draws comparisons to two mercurial scorers: Jussi Jokinen and Michael Grabner (Grabner being the most obvious comparison now that Jensen will be a player in the Canucks system like Grabner once was). Much like Grabner, he seems known best as a speedy skater with some questions about his willingness to go into the dirty areas. That worked out pretty well for Grabner, but the Canucks hope that Jensen does that damage for Vancouver rather than another team.

30. Anaheim Ducks (from BOS, then TOR): Rikard Rakell, Right Wing (Plymouth, OHL): The Ducks moved down by trading their 22nd overall pick for the 30th pick tonight and the 39th overall pick in the 2nd round on Saturday. With the pick, the Ducks drafted another Swede who chose to take his talents to Plymouth, Ontario to improve his draft stock. His two-way play and penalty killing ability will give him a chance to stick at the NHL level in a bottom-six role.

Reinhart, Sabres end stalemate with two-year bridge deal

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The Sam Reinhart Stalemate is finally over.

The 22-year-old signed on the dotted line on Wednesday, inking a new two-year bridge deal with an annual average value of $3.65 million.

The deal is good value for the Buffalo Sabres, who are right up against the 2018-19 salary cap of $79.5 million. CapFriendly shows the Sabres with just over $2.8 million in cap space left but with the potential to have to pay out nearly $4 million in bonuses this season.

Like Josh Morrissey and Darnell Nurse before him, the deal means Reinhart will be a restricted free agent come the summer of 2020 and the Sabres will then have the option to hand him an eight-year deal.

And like Morrissey and Nurse, the deal is team-friendly in terms of the cap now and leaves the player betting on themselves for a significant pay raise in two year’s time.

Reinhart had a slow start to the season last year but ended up setting a career-high in goals with 25 to tie Jack Eichel for the team lead.

What’s most impressive about Reinhart’s year was how good he was down the stretch. In the final 44 games, he had 39 of his career-high 50 points and 20 of his 25 goals came in 2018, which tied him for 12th in the NHL during that span.

Important to re-hash this from The Athletic’s John Vogl, who wrote about this subject in June:

Reinhart’s passing skills and hockey IQ make him an intriguing center candidate. Though not the fleetest of foot, he can drive the offense. According to the numbers at NaturalStatTrick.com, Reinhart trailed only Evander Kane and Jason Pominville in shots generated relative to his teammates and ranked fifth in fewest shots allowed. O’Reilly was noticeably better with Reinhart than without him.

As we wrote during Buffalo Sabres Day at PHT, Reinhart could find himself in a pretty juicy scenario playing on a line with Jack Eichel and Jeff Skinner. Given Reinhart’s ability to make those around him better, his career-highs could climb to new heights this coming season.

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Amid banter, NHL officials get refresher course at camp

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Lunch is over and before the next session of game film study begins, the jokes start flying among the 80-plus referees and linesmen assembled in a downtown hotel ballroom.

”Anyone who didn’t bring their glasses should move closer to the screen so they can see,” someone says.

”Or those who need glasses,” someone else adds, amid the laughter.

If NHL players need training camp to prepare for the start of the season, officials are no different. The men in black and white stripes gave The Associated Press access to their annual camp held in Buffalo, New York, last week and it was full of colorful honesty. They also squeezed in plenty of work during the five-day camp that marks the only time all of them get an opportunity to gather before being separated to roam the continent for much of the next 10 months.

”It’s like players say what they miss the most about when they played: It’s the locker room. It’s the same for us,” veteran linesman Tony Sericolo said, referring to the playful banter. ”This is our second family. We give each other shots all the time.”

Camp days usually begin with a workout at 6:30 a.m. and are split up evenly with on- and off-ice sessions. There is an annual banquet honoring those who achieved career milestones and those who retired last year. They also have a poker night, with proceeds going toward the education of the children of late official Stephane Provost, who died in a motorcycle accident in 2005.

On the ice, the officials get their skating legs under them by playing hockey in a six-team tournament.

”We get to refresh the rules, and it gets us back in the flow,” Sericolo said. ”You start thinking hockey again because for a couple of months, we’re home, we’re relaxing.”

Off the ice, they spend hours studying film to review penalty standards, and share pointers on what approach might work best in various situations. With no major rule changes introduced this offseason, NHL director of officiating Stephen Walkom placed the focus on reviewing existing rules.

”We want to make sure we continue the standard we had in previous years,” Walkom said. ”And then there’s the new tactic that crept into the game, slashing, and continue our vigilance there to allow the skill players to play.”

Another point of emphasis was faceoffs, after linesmen spent much of last season cracking down on players attempting to gain an advantage by creeping in from the hash mark or dropping to their knees for leverage.

Numerous videos featured miked-up linesmen being assertive by warning players to make sure their feet and sticks were set while lining up inside the circle.

Another series of videos showed examples of how referees were clear and concise in explaining calls, and the reasons behind them, with coaches at the bench. In one video, Minnesota Wild coach Bruce Boudreau went from being unhappy with a call to eventually agreeing with it after having it explained to him by an official.

Sericolo said watching how his colleagues handle situations were the best lessons.

”When you watch two or three guys that really do it right, you pick up little things from each of them,” he said. ”It really helps your craft.”

Sericolo is from Albany, New York, and got into officiating after playing hockey in college. He has now worked nearly 1,300 games since making his NHL debut in October 1998.

”When you’re playing, you never say to yourself, ‘Oh, I really can’t wait to referee.’ We all wanted to play,” he said. ”You weren’t good enough to play, but you always wanted to stay involved in the game. And this was a great way to stay involved.”

The most difficult part of camp might actually be playing hockey.

”It is tougher, because the hockey’s not as good,” Sericolo said, with a laugh. ”And we don’t know where we’re going.”

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/tag/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

PHT Morning Skate: Senators blame Karlsson; Seguin’s Super Mario clip

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• First off, up top, Tampa Bay Lightning center Alex Killorn nailed the Ryan Fitzpatrick look.

• The Ottawa Senators are saying they didn’t feel Erik Karlsson wanted to be a part of the rebuild in Canada’s capital. (Ottawa Citizen)

• In the salary cap era, players have to weigh their own contracts against the betterment of the team. (TSN)

• Here’s the oral history of the tweet of the year in the NHL: Tyler Seguin‘s Super Mario video announcing his contract extension in Dallas. (Sportsnet)

• Hockey is more than just a game for the man spearheading the effort to bring the NHL to Seattle. (NHL to Seattle)

• Five teams who didn’t make the playoffs last year that should make it this time around and vice versa. (Featurd)

• Like weird? Here’s the weirdest from the past year in the NHL. (Yard Barker)

• People like to emulate Stanley Cup winners. The Chicago Blackhawks are doing that in regards to the Washington Capitals power-play scheme. (NBC Sports Chicago)

• A facial fracture and surgery to repair the damage on Tuesday will keep Nicolas Deslauriers out the Montreal Canadiens lineup indefinitely. (Montreal Canadiens)

• A low offseason for the Edmonton Oilers has them playing a dangerous game. (Yahoo)

• A guide to watching preseason hockey. (The Hockey News)


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

NHL 19 brings some legitimately big changes

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Sports video games tend to trot out new wrinkles that end up being forgotten in months, let alone years. And when we remember them, it’s sometimes for how they fail; football fans may still shudder at Madden’s dreaded “QB Vision” cones.

When you put yourself in the developer’s shoes, it’s tough not to feel some sympathy, as it can’t be easy to churn out a new game every year.

Fair or not, “NHL 18” received some of the typical “glorified roster update” charges that come with annual updates. Even as an easy mark for the series, I must admit that the title felt a little stale. There was a worry that the series was losing steps faster than Corey Perry.

Delightfully, “NHL 19” is its own beast, and presents a surprisingly large step forward for the series. Perhaps it only makes sense with “World of CHEL” bringing the game outdoors.

Today, PHT will look at some of the biggest changes, and how they mostly work for the better. Tomorrow, we’ll trot out a wishlist of sorts for changes we’d like to see in the probable event that EA will release “NHL 20.”

(With that in mind, absolutely share your own wants and hopes in the comments.)

World of CHEL, the good sort of fresh coat of paint

On one hand, “World of CHEL” feels like a repackaging of the series’ many online game modes. If you want to be sardonic about it, this mode sometimes resembles a memorable Jim Gaffigan bit.

While I’ll admit that I’m still very early on when it comes to this mode, so far, it seems like it mostly works.

Personally, I’ve never been all that into heavy player customization; “World of Warcraft” and other online-heavy modes have rarely been my bag. (Considering how addictive many of those games can become, that’s almost certainly a good thing.)

A lot of people do love decking out their characters with “Office Space”-approved flair, though, and this mode seems to bring previous “Be a Pro” elements to a new level. Credit EA with not ruining “World of CHEL” by adding microtransactions, either. Maybe you can chalk it up to HUT covering those bases, or just the backlash to NBA2K’s decisions and EA’s own heartache with Star Wars titles, but it’s nonetheless appreciated.

Ones of a kind

After introducing a more arcade-style, 3-on-3 mode title “Threes” in last year’s game, “NHL 19” adds “Ones.” It’s hockey’s answer to pro wrestling’s triple-threat match, as three individual players battle for the puck and try to score the most goals against a computer goalie.

Yes, it’s as hectic as that sounds. It’s also a fantastic “palate cleanser” compared to more straightforward modes.

As someone who misses the days of arcade-style games (EA’s own “BIG” label churned out truly fantastic titles like SSX and NBA Street, for instance), I appreciate the efforts with these modes. Actually, such thoughts make me hope that EA goes even further with the zaniness in future editions.

Regardless, it’s a nifty, refreshing new flavor for the NHL series.

Cutting edges

A lot of times sports games will trot out gameplay tweaks with goofy, corporatized titles. “NHL 19” isn’t immune to this when it comes to “Explosive Edge Skating.”

Luckily, skating really is drastically improved in this one.

In earlier additions, players sometimes felt like they pivoted with the grace of tugboats. Mediocre responsiveness exacerbated issues where star players didn’t always stand out enough compared to their peers.

“NHL 19” makes big strides in that area, as it’s far easier to turn on a dime and find space, particularly with the Connor McDavids of the world.

Such improvements are felt in other ways – hitting has improved – but you’re most likely to feel the difference in skating.

Death of the pokecheck?

In recent titles, I’ve “spammed” the pokecheck button on defense, albeit at the right moments. Sometimes it almost felt a little dirty that it was so successful, so often.

“NHL 19” shakes a finger disapprovingly at my old methods, however. Penalties generally seem to have been ramped up in this version, with a borderline overcorrection happening regarding pokechecking leading to tripping penalties.

It’s not clear if EA found the sweet spot with this yet, but after grumbling through some early growing pains, I think it’s probably for the best.

EA Hockey Manager

Sometimes you want to feel the rush of deking around defensemen, landing big hits, and roofing pucks beyond a goalie’s glove. Other times you want to feel like you’d do a better job than Marc Bergevin and Dale Tallon.

In past NHL games, you’d probably get an overly inflated feeling that you’d school Bergevin, aside from maybe in a bench-pressing contest. If you engage with all of the modes in “NHL 19,” you may actually end up feeling some empathy for the league’s most embattled execs.

That’s because the franchise mode feels a lot beefier.

For one thing, scouting feels closer to the spreadsheets-as-games experiences you could get if you nerded out with “Eastside Hockey Manager” or “Franchise Hockey Manager.”

Rather than merely budgeting time in weeks and sending a scout out to different locations like in previous games, “NHL 19” allows you to hire and fire scouts. You can align your pro and amateur scouts in a number of ways, including which details you survey in a given prospect.

(Bonus points for EA adding the player comparison element to prospect profiles, so you can experience the fun of some 18-year-old never becoming the next Zdeno Chara. How life-like!)

You can see how it works in greater detail by watching this video, but in short, it brings this series closer to the deeper scouting elements seen in other sports games.

Refreshingly, you’ll need those pro scouts if you keep “fog of war” on, and that element might be what makes you feel a simulation of a GM’s pain.

In past NHL games, you’d know the rating for every player – even ones on opposing teams – aside from players you were scouting. If fog of war is toggled on in “NHL 19,” you’ll sometimes only get hazy reports, and you’ll need to trust the accuracy of your professional scouts.

It opens the door for fascinating differences of opinion. Maybe you’d also pull the trigger on a trade akin to Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson if you were going off the opinion of a C-grade pro scout?

If this all sounds like way too much for a video game – understandably – note that customize it by turning fog of war and other things off. (Personally, I tend to turn off owner mode, as I’m not really interested in deciding how much money I should spend on bathroom repairs.)

HUT gets some tweaks

One bummer with long-lasting NHL modes is that they don’t carry over. Your franchise mode team can’t continue on, and your Be a Pro must be a scrappy up-and-comer even if your “NHL 18” version made the Hall of Fame.

It might be worst with Hockey Ultimate Team, however, as real-life dollars are frequently spent to improve HUT rosters. (This FIFA story is basically a parent’s nightmare.)

So, on one hand, I’m not sure how I feel about soccer-like “loan players” in HUT. I’m also not sure if changes to player ratings are really just a way to nudge the mode closer to “pay-to-win.”

Either way, seeing fairly noteworthy tweaks to HUT might make it easier for those who’ve paid for previous teams to start from scratch. Maybe.

As far as the wider quality of the mode goes – particularly how feasible it is to be competitive if you make it a point not to spend an extra dime on “NHL 19” – it will probably take months to know for sure if it’s truly better, the same, or worse. Early on, there’s some value to the sheer novelty it represents.

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Long story short, “NHL 19” presents more than just token changes to EA’s formula for NHL games. These changes should be refreshing for series veterans, while the improved gameplay and other tweaks make for a solid start for anyone new to the titles.

More than anything else, it all feels so much better to play, even if it’s unlikely to convert its loudest critics.

This series has been providing quantity for quite a few years, and you’re getting even more of that with “NHL 19.” Thankfully, this iteration presents a big jump in quality, too.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.