But before those players make their travel arrangements, get more practice in and prepare for the big day, they have to build their rosters.
New to the NHL Gaming World Championship in its second season is the Regional Draft: a unique concept that mixes strategy and preference, risk and reward, in a race to build the best possible roster for the highest chance to win.
The online draft dates are: April 27 for Europe, May 4 for Canada and May 11 for the United States.
How it works
At least three days before Europe, the first draft, finalists in all three regions will be given a list of more than 280 NHL player cards that will make up the entire draft pool, which will consist entirely of active NHL players.
Each competitor's 25-man roster must include 12 forwards, six defensemen and two goalies, as well as five additional skaters (any combination of forwards and defensemen). The "snake draft" formula will be used, meaning that the order of picks is reversed each round.
The first seed after the online qualifiers gets the first pick, the seed gets the second pick, and so on.
The early rounds will be interesting because of which franchise players competitors will opt to build their teams around. In the later rounds, it's more about rounding out required picks; competitors who've maxed out on forwards would have to take a defenseman or a goalie, even if they think the best pick available is a center or a wing.
Other key questions:
Can you trade your cards?
There are no trades. Once a player is picked, he belongs to that gamer.
What about duplicates?
Same thing; there are also no duplicates. Once a gamer picks a player, nobody else will be able to select him. Only one competitor will have Connor McDavid, Alex Ovechkin, etc.
Will gamers get to pick what jersey their team wears?
Yes. Each competitor will pick an NHL jersey for their team. No duplicates here either, each regional must have eight different NHL teams.
What happens if a gamer can't make the regional draft?
In the event a competitor can't make the regional draft, that player's team will be drafted automatically, based off the best available pick that fits with the game's requirements.
The regional draft is a concept not found in any other major esports tournament. A representative from EA Sports in Burnaby, British Columbia, involved in creating the draft, said that the draft pool was created and curated specifically for the tournament. One goal was to make season two feel more varied and to add a layer of strategy.
All NHL Gaming World Championship regional draft cards will have a similar look and feel to the HUT (Hockey Ultimate Team) cards that NHL 19 players are used to, but they will have the NHL Gaming World Championship logo and a "regional" style to them.
There will be more than 280 NHL Gaming World Championship HUT cards in the draft pool. So how were the player cards selected?
EA took a cross section of the NHL, taking into account the relative strengths of the league. There are roughly 650-800 players with significant ice time played in the NHL each year. EA and the NHL wanted to pick and put the players in a format that makes sense to the draft. That means it's not too top-heavy, and not too bottom-heavy.
For example, if there are seven 91 overall players, in this particular draft there might only be four.
EA confirmed that every NHL team will have player representation in the draft. One core focus was to add the element of draft strategy, so that players can feel and act like a general manager while creating their teams.
Another factor players will have to consider is "synergies." The synergy system has been around in HUT for a few years, but each player card will have one synergy attached specifically for the NHL Gaming World Championship draft. Not only will overalls and player preference/style be a factor, so will what synergies a competitor will want on the drafted roster and needing to draft enough players to meet that point threshold to activate that synergy.
For example, in regular HUT "Faceoff Master" is a synergy unlocked when you have four players with this synergy attached to them on a roster. It gives you plus-3 in face-offs and poise. John Tavares, Bo Horvat, Nazem Kadri, and Jonathan Toews have this synergy in regular HUT.
Competitors will be given full information on all player cards available in the draft, including their ratings and synergies, prior to regional draft day.
At the end of the day, the NHL and EA wanted to ensure that this was unique, intriguing and challenging.
The NHL has confirmed that once a draft is complete, competitors will have their full teams by EA uploaded to their accounts so that they can practice prior to the regional finals.
Draft Strategy from the gamers
For most players who've qualified, the personal HUT team they qualified with will be drastically different from the HUT team they will draft from the regionals. Some players have sentimental favorites, others have had great success with certain players who they might angle for in the upcoming draft.
"I've loved (Auston) Matthews this year, and (Patrice) Bergeron killed it for me in the qualifiers," said Erik "Eki" Tammenpaa, the NHL Gaming World Championship winner in the first season. "Left-handed centers with good face-offs."
Pleemaker, who qualified for the tournament for the second straight year (along with Tammenpaa and Hannes "Hansulinho" Kettunen), had a wish list that also included Matthews, as well as forwards Mark Stone, Evgeni Malkin and Steven Stamkos, and defensemen Victor Hedman and Brent Burns.
Burns also appears on Hansulinho and Kristian "Kriketsi" Veijola's top-five lists (Hansulinho also happens to sport an impressive Burns-esque beard).
"I want big wingers who can shoot and protect the puck like Patrik Laine or Mikko Rantanen," Hansulinho said of the two fellow Finns.
Most players had Ben Bishop of the Dallas Stars atop their goalie list because of his combination of size and stats. But there are differences in philosophies on when to pick a goalie in this draft.
"It depends what cards there [are], but I think first or second round if there is good big goaltender available," Kriketsi said.
"I will take my goalie pretty late probably; there [are] only eight players, so everyone will get a good goalie," Pleemaker said. "Of course, Bishop is better than anyone but besides that, all goalies are pretty even."
Joonas "Supervirta" Virta thinks his strategy will differ from the pack. "I feel like I am the only one who will go for goalie early rounds," he said. "One of my biggest advantage against others is my manual goalie muse if I get it on point. When you control goalies manually there [are] huge differences how they feel when you control them, so I have to go for one of those builds early on that I know I am good with."
Most players were hesitant to tip their hand too much in terms of draft strategy, but some offered a little insight.
"Everyone else in the draft will read this article, so I'm not going to give you too much info. I think everyone knows I like left handed players and centers," Tammenpaa said.
"Don't really know my strategy yet, but probably just deadly first offensive line and big [defensemen]," Pleemaker said.
Hansulinho echoed the need for size and accuracy. "I'd like to have a big goalie and good centers with good face-offs," he said. "That's big thing for me. It's hard to play if you can't trust your goalie at all or win any face-offs."
Supervirta thinks the magic is found in the diamonds in the rough: "We have been making a list from the more unknown players which might be the players that not everyone would choose, but are good player builds for me."
Perhaps the most honest strategy came from Risto "Dominointi" Jarvi. "I just pick players I like," he said. "One Finnish player could be nice."
One of the more prominent debates is picking a player based of the team's most pressing need as opposed to the best overall player in any position. Answers differ among the European finalists.
Tammenpaa stresses the need for balance. "For me, fit is the No. 1 thing because I have a strategy when building my lines," he said. "But it depends so much on what kind of players are there going to be. Are there big gaps in overalls, etc."
Meanwhile, Pleemaker predicts a mid-draft shift. "On the early rounds I will probably just pick the best players available," he said. "But after that I will start to think about which positions I need, etc."
Once the respective regional drafts are complete, results will be posted online.
Arda Ocal is the play-by-play commentator for the NHL Gaming World Championship and will file stories for NHL.com throughout season 2.