Cale Makar on the cover of NHL 23
(Photo Credit: @Avalanche/ Twitter)

As the 2021-22 NHL season winds down, it’s time to start thinking about which player deserves to be on the cover of EA Sports’ NHL 23.

Each summer, EA Sports carefully selects a relevant and exciting player to be on the cover of their popular NHL video game series. Toronto Maple Leafs’ superstar Auston Matthews graces the cover of the latest installment.

There’s many factors that come into play when EA Sports makes its decision. Even though a player may be deserving, they may not play in a marketable enough hockey market. Legends such as Sidney Crosby have also reportedly declined the cover.

In the instance of the NHL 23 cover, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine needs to be taken into consideration. It’s unlikely EA Sports selects a Russian NHL player for the NHL 23 cover due to the potential backlash that would come with that choice.

Who will be on the NHL 23 cover? Here’s a list of the top five candidates.

5. Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames 

Johnny Gaudreau’s incredible 2021-22 season makes him a top-five candidate for the NHL 23 cover. Gaudreau is having a career year at age 28, racking up 30 goals and 90 points in 66 games. Gaudreau’s play is a primary reason the Flames are a popular pick to represent the Western Conference in the 2022 Stanley Cup Final. Gaudreau has the speed and skill to be an ideal NHL 23 cover athlete. Gaudreau’s game is very comparable to that of previous EA NHL cover athletes, Patrick Kane and Claude Giroux.

Deking has always been an important aspect of EA Sports NHL, which is something Gaudreau excels in. The knock on “Johnny” Hockey” has been his playoff performances, but he can change that narrative this spring. Even if Gaudreau has another early-exit, we wouldn’t count him out of the NHL 23 cover discussion. 24-year-old Auston Matthews has already gotten two EA Sports NHL covers despite failing to make it out of the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Gaudreau could very well become the first Flames’ cover athlete since Dion Phaneuf (NHL 09).

4. Marc-Andre Fleury, Minnesota Wild 

Could we see a goalie on the cover of NHL 23? While Russian netminders Igor Shesterkin and Andrei Vasilevskiy may be more talented, Minnesota’s Marc-Andre Fleury is the more likely option. “The Flower” has become one of the most beloved goalies across the NHL due to his fun-loving personality. Fleury is always cracking jokes and trolling other players. It also doesn’t hurt that Flower just recently won the 2020 Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s best goalie.

It’s been eight years since EA Sports featured a goalie on their video game cover (Martin Brodeur, NHL 14). With Fleury now 37 years of age, this could be the perfect opportunity for EA Sports to feature him on their cover before he eventually retires. The mid-season trade to Minnesota from Chicago also helps, as Fleury is now getting a chance to steal the show in the playoffs.

We don’t have Fleury higher on this list because goalies are still facing an uphill battle for the NHL 23 cover. New York Rangers’ legend, Henrik Lundqvist, recently retired without ever being featured on the EA NHL cover. It takes a special type of goalie to get serious EA Sports NHL cover consideration. Goalies don’t have the same flash and creativity that can enhance a video game like a forward can. Fleury has a flare for the dramatic, however, and his marketable personality still makes him a leading NHL 23 cover athlete candidate.

3. Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers 

Is it finally time Leon Draisaitl gets his deserved EA Sports NHL cover? Draisaitl is often overshadowed by NHL 18 cover athlete Connor McDavid in Edmonton, but the numbers don’t lie. Over the past three seasons, Draisaitl is second in NHL scoring with 290 points in 194 games. He’s just 10 points back of the leading scorer McDavid in that span. EA Sports could acknowledge Draisaitl’s consistent elite offensive production by awarding him the NHL 23 cover.

Leon Draisaitl NHL 23 cover
(Photo Credit: @NHL/ Twitter)

Making Draisaitl the NHL 23 cover athlete is also a great way to grow the game internationally. The NHL is always looking into ways they can grow the sport beyond America. Having a European player on the NHL 23 cover is a perfect way for EA Sports to get more international hockey fans playing their videogame. EA Sports has never been afraid look outside of North America for candidates, featuring Alex Ovechkin (NHL 21) and Vladimir Tarasenko (NHL 17) on recent EA NHL covers.

2. Trevor Zegras, Anaheim Ducks 

Could Trevor Zegras become the first rookie to be on the cover of EA Sports NHL? Zegras is a leading candidate for the NHL 23 cover due to his dazzling skill and creativity. The Anaheim Ducks’ rookie burst onto the scene in his first full season in 2021-22. Zegras was a human highlight reel, wowing hockey fans on a nightly basis. Zegras assisted Sonny Milano with an insane lob pass from behind the net before scoring two “Michigan” goals versus Montreal and Arizona.

Zegras makes so much sense as the NHL 23 cover athlete. EA Sports is looking for a player they can market, and that’s exactly what Zegras provides. The 21-year-old is always trying new moves and having fun on the ice. That’s part of the reason Auston Matthews was selected as the NHL 22 cover athlete despite having already been on the cover before. Matthews’ marketability level was off the charts. Zegras is the new generation of hockey and would drive plenty of sales for the video game. Zegras has inspired hockey players around the world to be more creative with their moves.

We had Zegras penciled in for the NHL 23 cover after his Michigan assist to Milano, but can no longer list him in the top spot. The Ducks have had a tough second half to the season, including a 10-game losing streak in March. Zegras has been overtaken by Detroit Red Wings’ defenseman Moritz Seider as the Calder Trophy favorite. The Ducks missing the playoffs hurts Zegras’ chances of getting the NHL 23 cover. The last eight EA Sports NHL covers have featured players from playoff teams.

1. Cale Makar, Colorado Avalanche 

Cale Makar is primed to become the first defenseman to grace the EA Sports NHL video game cover since Nashville’s PK Subban in 2018. Makar is a generational talent putting up ridiculous numbers for a defenseman. Makar was a top-20 scorer in the 2021-22 NHL season, recording over 20 goals and 70-plus points. He dazzled with his ankle-breaking moves at the blueline and breakneck-speed. Makar also scored one of the nastiest goals of the entire season in a nationally televised game against the Chicago Blackhawks.

Makar is favored to win his first Norris Trophy at the young age of 23. He has everything EA Sports could want in a cover athlete. Makar is explosive and playing on one of the most exciting teams in the NHL. The Avalanche are loaded and projected to duel with Calgary for the Western Conference seed in the Stanley Cup Final. Makar has drawn Bobby Orr comparisons due to his ability to carry the puck up-ice and play the game almost like a forward.

The one knock on Makar for the NHL 23 cover is he doesn’t quite have the outgoing personality of someone like Trevor Zegras. He’s humble, however, and lets his results on the ice do the talking. Previous cover athletes Connor McDavid and Jonathan Toews have received flack for not having enough personality, but that didn’t stop EA from recognizing their skill. Makar is a type of defenseman hockey fans haven’t seen in some time, and that’s exactly why he’s our leading candidate for the NHL 23 cover.