Breaking down NHL 22’s Superstar X-Factor system

Hockey is nearly back, and with it comes the release of a new instalment in EA Sports’ NHL video game series. Coming out on October 15, 2021—just three days after the start of the NHL season—NHL 22 promises something new: Superstar X-Factors.

X-Factors are special attributes awarded to the league’s best players to help set them apart from the rest. Total across all categories, 50 players received X-Factors. Among them, only four were goalies, and 11 defensemen, meaning 35 of the players receiving X-Factors were forwards.

The end goal of X-Factors is to not only make the stars more notably better than the typical players in the league, but also to make each player feel unique and more true to life. With these X-Factors, the players in the game should better reflect the play styles of the NHL players they represent. Rather than just having a higher overall rating than their less skilled teammates, the stars of the NHL will have their unique skill sets more accurately portrayed, and hopefully score their points in a style more similar to how they do in real life.

These X-Factors can impact any number of attributes, making up six ability types: shooting, passing, skating, hockey IQ, defending, and goaltending. As a part of the Be a Pro, Hockey Ultimate Team, Franchise Mode, and World of Chel game modes, hopefully X-Factors bring something new to game modes that have become staples of the series.

Shooting X-Factors

  • Shock and Awe – gives the player a boost to his shooting directly after a successful deke
  • Beauty Backhand – exactly as it sounds, gives a boost to a player’s backhand shots
  • Heatseeker – wrist and snap shots from the point are more powerful and more accurate for players with this X-Factor
  • Thunderclap – slap shots from the point are extra powerful
  • One-Tee – allows the player to take much stronger and more accurate one timers, even off of imperfect passes
  • Shnipe – this X-Factor gives players a bonus on shots coming immediately after settling a bouncing puck
  • Make it Snappy – gives a boost to snap shots while skating

Skating X-Factors

  • Wheels – players with Wheels skate the same speed with and without the puck
  • Elite Edges – improves the player’s agility
  • Ankle Breaker – players can deke without losing any speed if they have the Ankle Breaker X-Factor
  • In Reverse – in reverse allows players to skate backwards as fast as forwards

Passing Abilities

  • Tape to Tape – improves passing in a few ways, including automatic saucer passes and giving more accurate backhands
  • Send it – gives a pass assist boost, and also allows for auto saucer passes
  • Magnetic – makes it easier to catch bad passes and gather in loose pucks
  • Third Eye – third eye gives the player vision of the whole ice with no blind spots

Defending Abilities

  • Yoink! – improves stick lifting
  • Stick ’em up – improves success rate with the defensive skill stick
  • Shutdown – gives a boost to defensive abilities when defending a one-on-one

Goaltending Abilities

  • Contortionist – increases save range, recovery, and ability
  • All or Nothing – helps players to poke check in front of the goal
  • Dialed in – boosts goalies ability after making 15 saves in a game
  • Post to Post – boosts reaction time and recovery when going post to post

Hockey IQ

  • Puck on a String – extra fast moves and toe drags
  • Quick Pick – players can intercept more effectively and from further away
  • All Alone – with this X-Factor, players become more effective on power plays and penalty shots
  • Quick Draw – players with this trait are more effective on the draw
  • It’s Tricky – gives much higher success rates with trick shots and dekes, as well as accuracy following trick dekes
  • Crease Crasher – this X-Factor gives players a better ability to corral loose pucks
  • Big Tipper – improves all aspects of a player’s ability to deflect pucks

Now that we know all of the X-Factors, here is the list of players who got them, and which one they got.

Aleksander BarkovAll Alone
Jake GuentzelShnipe
Patrice BergeronYoink!
Mathew Barzal Elite Edges
Alex DeBrincatMake It Snappy
Jack EichelMake It Snappy
Leon DraisaitlTape to Tape
Sebastian AhoThird Eye
Sean CouturierStick ‘Em Up
Kyle ConnorThunderclap
Jonathan HuberdeauTape to Tape
Patrick KanePuck on a String
Kirill KaprizovTape to Tape
Anze KopitarQuick Picks
Nikita KucherovMake It Snappy
Gabriel LandeskogCrease Crasher
Nathan MacKinnonAnkle Breaker
Brad MarchandMake It Snappy
Mitch MarnerThird Eye
Auston MatthewsShock and Awe
Connor McDavidWheels
Ryan O’ReillyQuick Draw
Alex OvechkinOne Tee
Artemi PanarinMake It Snappy
David PastrnakShnipe
Joe PavelskiBig Tipper
Elias PetterssonThird Eye
Brayden PointWheels
Mikko RantanenTape to Tape
Mark ScheifeleShnipe
Steven StamkosOne Tee
Mark StoneYoink!
Matthew TkachukIts Tricky
Mika Zibanejad Magnetic
Victor HedmanStick ‘Em Up
Seth JonesWheels
Dougie HamiltonHeatseeker
Adam FoxTape to Tape
John CarlsonThunderclap
Roman JosiSend It
Kris LetangIn Reverse
Cale MakarElite Edges
Alex PietrangeloShutdown
Jaccob SlavinShutdown
Shea TheodoreHeatseeker
Marc-Andre FleuryAll or Nothing
Connor HellebuyckDialed In
Carey PricePost to Post
Andrei VasilevskiyContortionist


At the individual level, a few names jump out for me. Some of them, like Matthews’ shot boost, are obvious. But some are more interesting, like giving Joe Pavelski, an X-Factor. Although not generally regarded as a superstar at 37 years old, he is famous for his ability to deflect pucks. Giving him the the Big Tipper X-Factor should make his play style more true to life, and the game more fun.

It’s also nice to see some defensive defencemen getting credit, as it can be hard for defensive players to carry their weight in NHL video games where offense is usually key. Hopefully with the Shutdown X-Factor, more defensemen can become more effective, even without putting up big offensive numbers. Among the 50 players given X-Factors, just Jacob Slavin and Alex Pietrangelo have this particular boost.

With only 50 X-Factor players, it’s no surprise that some teams are left without any superstars. Still, it was surprising to me just how many were left without, with fully seven teams without a single X-Factor players. Seattle, Arizona, Anaheim, Columbus, Detroit, Ottawa and San Jose all are stuck without any X-Factor players. On the other hand, Tampa Bay unsurprisingly leads the way with five players with X-Factor players.

Number of X-Factor PlayersTeams
5Tampa Bay
4Chicago, Colorado
3Boston, New York Rangers, Pittsburgh, Las Vegas, Winnipeg
2Carolina, Edmonton, Florida, Toronto, Washington
1Buffalo, Calgary, Dallas, Los Angeles, Minnesota, Montreal, Nashville, New Jersey, New York Islanders, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Vancouver
0Anaheim, Arizona, Columbus, Detroit, Ottawa, San Jose, Seattle

For the most part, teams who are rebuilding have fewer superstars and teams with more stars have had more recent success, but there are exceptions. In Chicago, for example, Seth Jones, Alex DeBrincat, Patrick Kane, and Marc-Andre Fleury all have X-Factors.

On the other end of the spectrum, the New York Islanders have made the conference finals in back-to-back seasons, and have only one X-Factor player. Considering X-Factors will be involved in game modes that rely heavily on simulation, like franchise mode, it will be interesting to see how X-Factor players affect the simulation for teams like Chicago and the Islanders.

The Calgary Flames and the X-Factor

The Flames were a team without a single point per game forward in 2021. Their top defenseman and captain left in the expansion draft, and their star goalie is coming off a down year. It would have come as no surprise to many if EA, infamous for their oversights, didn’t give the Flames a single X-Factor player, even with Johnny Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk, and Jacob Markstrom on the roster.

Luckily, that’s not the case, and Matthew Tkachuk is representing the Flaming C. His X-Factor, “It’s Tricky” gives him elite trick shooting abilities. Someone at EA must be paying attention, as almost nobody tries the through-the-legs move as often or as successfully as Chucky.

It may not work every time, but when it does its glorious. The X-Factor is clearly a well deserved honour for Tkachuk.

It does seem like a miss on the part of EA to not give Gaudreau an X-Factor as well. Famous for his agility and passing, not to mention his uniqueness as a relatively small NHL player, he seems like the perfect candidate for an X-Factor. Since joining the league, he’s 11th in overall points and eighth in assists. With his pedigree and passing ability, its a shame he wasn’t given a superstar trait.

Small change is better than no change at all

With fans of the series constantly pointing out that little has changed in the last couple (well, more than a couple) iterations, X-Factors are supposed to be the big change in NHL 22. While not really what fans asked for, it at least seems like a fun feature that will help separate the top players in the game from the rest.

Likely in the coming years the system will be built on and improved, but the X-Factors coming out with NHL 22 appear fairly comprehensive for a first go, encompassing all positions well and bringing in a new element. Hopefully for gamers everywhere, this new feature is a sign of lots of new changes to come in the next few years.

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