Auston Matthews in NHL 17 at launch, just not with Leafs yet

Toronto Maple Leafs first round draft pick Auston Matthews (Aaron Lynett/CP)

TORONTO – EA Sports NHL fans eager to begin building virtual Toronto Maple Leafs dynasties with Auston Matthews will have to wait just a little bit longer.

Matthews, the first overall pick by the Leafs in June’s draft will be in NHL 17, the latest iteration of EA’s venerable annual hockey video game franchise, at launch—just not in the Blue and White yet.

Instead, gamers will be able to play as Matthews on Team North America in NHL 17’s all-new World Cup of Hockey mode right out of the box.

Normally, a player needs to have played one regular season shift before the EA Sports NHL development team has the rights to leverage them in their NHL sweaters. But thanks to a special agreement with the NHL and the players’ association specifically around this September’s World Cup of Hockey, the developers have access to all the players’ rights on every World Cup team.

So while fans will be able to play as Matthews on Team North America, they will have to wait for the roster update after he plays his first shift with Toronto to get a chance to play as him on the Maple Leafs.

“Typically what we’ll do is once the season has started, and all the rookies have kind of played their first games and we see what the lines look like as well, we’ll do a roster update just to get everything represented as accurately as possible,” EA Sports NHL lead producer Sean Ramjagsingh told Sportsnet.

For Winnipeg Jets fans wondering about second overall pick Patrik Laine, the same applies to him. He will be featured on Team Finland at the game’s launch and will need to play a shift with the Jets before he can be put onto the roster within the game officially.

The player and uniform rights specific to the game’s World Cup mode is something the EA development team is very excited about.

“The fact that this year, because we’re working closely with the NHL and the [Players’ Association]–we’re partners–we’re driving the World Cup of Hockey,” Ramjagsingh said. “We have the authentic uniforms for use in the World Cup of Hockey mode, we have the authentic players as well.

“So even the players who are not part of the NHL, or part of the PA right now. More specifically, some of the Russian players that are playing in the KHL, we have the rights to those players as well, which is unique to the World Cup of Hockey mode,” he explained. “So the fact that we have the authentic [product] represented in the game is something we’re extremely proud of.”

In other words, if you really wanted to play as SKA Saint Petersburg’s Evgeny Dadonov or CSKA Moscow’s Ivan Telegin, here’s your chance.

Of course, having the World Cup assets locked into World Cup mode might be limiting, so the partnership EA Sports forged with the World Cup made it so the properties would seep into other features of NHL 17.

For example, in general play modes, you’ll have access to all the World Cup teams. So, as Ramjagsingh said, “If you want to be that guy that plays Team Canada online you can be that guy. If you want to be that guy that takes Team Canada against your buddy, you can be that guy too on the couch.”

In the popular Hockey Ultimate Team (HUT) mode, the World Cup will be leveraged as player and item cards that will be a part of HUT’s new dynamic sets feature. Essentially, it’s a new and better way for players to organize what they have and potentially turn duplicates or things they may not want into a higher-value item.

The game’s new Draft Champions mode—sort of like a more dynamic, streamlined fantasy draft within the game—will have themed functionality so you can limit your draft to a certain group of players, including those who are only part of the World Cup.

Finally, within the EA Sports Hockey League (EASHL), players will be able to unlock all of the World Cup of Hockey assets for their team, although that doesn’t necessarily mean things like country banners will be available to customize your (EASHL) rink will be made available.

The World Cup of Hockey gets started on Sept. 17 with Team USA and Team Europe kicking things off. EA Sports NHL 17 comes out just four days before the tournament starts in earnest on Sept. 13 for PlayStation 4 and Xbox ONE.

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