NHL 21 First Look: Be A Pro Gets An Overhaul, Capitals' Alex Ovechkin Returns To The Cover

The long-running Be A Pro mode is in for a much needed overhaul.

August 24, 2020

The first look at EA Sports’ NHL 21 arrived Monday, revealing that Washington Capitals winger Alexander Ovechkin will be returning to the series’ cover when the game launches on Oct. 16.

Check out the reveal trailer below:

The trailer as a whole is less than two minutes long, but there are a few things to parse from it. First off, the franchise looks to be keeping the core focus on player expression and forging your own path, evident by the trailer’s retelling of Ovechkin’s spectacular career so far and the legacy he’s leaving on hockey.

What makes this exciting as far as the game is concerned is what that focus means for NHL’s long-running Be A Pro mode, which hasn’t gotten any major updates in the last few years. The end of the trailer gives you a glimpse of an unidentified player in his team’s locker room (presumably your created Be A Pro) before cutting to show off NHL 21’s special edition cover, and the NHL 21 page on EA’s website does confirm that, yes, Be A Pro is getting an overhaul.


From EA:

“A brand new Be A Pro experience gives you the chance to live the life of an NHL player, on and off the ice. Impress the front office, go early on draft day, and chase greatness as you earn your spot on the first line, compete for the Stanley Cup, and become the league’s next best. Recognize Future with Be A Pro in NHL 21.”

“Our community has been asking for an invigorating Be A Pro experience that puts them in the same spotlight as their favorite NHL stars, like Alex Ovechkin,” NHL series producer Sean Ramjagsingh said in a press release. “Ovechkin’s gameplay legacy, on and off the ice, is helping us to bring the next generation of EA SPORTS NHL gameplay to life with NHL 21.”

Also spotted in the trailer were Artemi Panarin’s kick celebration, Nikita Kucherov’s no-move deke, Andrei Svechnikov pulling off the lacrosse goal (something he popularized earlier this season and will be returning to the NHL games from NHL 06), and a Pittsburgh Penguins player banking the puck off the back of the net to shake free from a defender (something Sidney Crosby pulled out of his hat earlier this year). These moves add to the game’s authenticity, but will also expand players’ on-ice toolkit based on early details.

Again from EA:

“Gameplay in NHL 21 has also gotten smarter, faster and a whole lot flashier with innovative moves and massive improvements on both sides of the puck. Players now have more options than ever before to take control of the game and impose their playstyle on opponents. Players can dazzle with slips, banks and chips, while pulling off some of the most recognizable superstar-inspired moves. However, players will also have to deal with improved goalie positioning and control, as netminders are adapting to the game’s skill level faster than ever before with brand-new desperation moves and animations.”


NHL 21 will be Ovechkin’s third time gracing the cover of a hockey game. He was the face of NHL 07 after an incredible 106-point rookie season in 2005-06, and represented the competing, but now defunct, NHL 2K franchise a few years later with NHL 2K10.

The reveal of the next iteration of the annual hockey franchise usually comes with the NHL Awards in June, but because of the coronavirus pandemic, the league’s schedule and the development timeline for the game was pushed back.

EA Vancouver, in a letter to its players published last month, said that its team had shifted to remote work due to the pandemic and that, as a result, the game was pushed out of its usual September launch window and into October.

The letter also confirmed that there would be no next-gen version of NHL 21 for the launches of the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X later in the fall, but that the current-gen PS4 and Xbox one versions will be forward compatible with the new consoles. Disappointing? Yes. Surprising? Not really. The NHL franchise has waited a year before making the next-gen jump with the last two console launches — The Xbox 360 launched in 2005 but didn’t get an EA NHL game until NHL 07 a year later, and although the PS4 and Xbox One released in 2013, EA again waited a year to bring its brand of hockey over with NHL 15 (but to disastrous results, unfortunately) — so you can argue that history helped set expectations a bit here.

This generation of NHL got off to a brutal start — there are still a number of modes and elements that haven’t returned from the franchise’s glory years on the 360 and the PS3 — but the past couple games have made a few positive strides. Skating was overhauled to better represent the speed and agility of NHL-level skating starting with NHL 19, and NHL 20 expanded that effort into shooting with unique and signature motions (in other words, P.K. Subban’s slap shot in game looks likes his slap shot in real life). Franchise Mode has received a steady flow of tweaks and additions with the past two games, and World of Chel consolidated the EASHL, Threes, and Ones modes into one online suite and added a bevy of customization options for players to better express themselves through their Be A Pro.

With NHL 21, EA Vancouver looks to keep the puck moving up the ice.


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