EA Sports: It's in the game. Hockey fans, players young and old, video gamers across the globe...everyone loves the fast-paced NHL video game series from Electronic Arts.
The game's developers consistently improve the in-game realism and authenticity, giving the gamer the chance to control his or her favorite team or player for exhibition games, playoff series or entire seasons.
Many NHL superstars—including Washington's Alexander Ovechkin, Chicago's Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews and, most recently, Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos—have graced the cover in prior years' editions.
However, this year, the game's marketing team devised a strategy that allows fans to vote for the 2013 version of the game's cover athlete. Two players from each team entered, and a winner moved on to the next round. The contest now features six players from a pool of the top-eight vote-getters who all deserve the honor of gracing the game's cover.
It's the precise blend of skill, popularity and the right looks that separate the true next face of EA Sports NHL '13 from the contenders.
Arguably hockey's most marketable player, Coyotes bruiser Paul Bissonette endeared himself to hockey fans all over the globe through his comedic tweets and general tomfoolery.
@BizNasty2point0 made a name for himself through social media and embracing his role as a fourth-line grinder for the Phoenix Coyotes in the NHL.
While not technically in the running to grace the cover of NHL '13, perhaps enough write-in votes from dedicated fans can tweet Biz (#BizForTheCover) to his rightful place as EA Sports' newest cover athlete.
If Hartnell doesn't get the nod from EA Sports, perhaps Geico could use another "caveman" for their advertising campaigns.
Flyers winger Scottie Hartnell enjoyed a career year on a line with budding superstar Claude Giroux and future Hall of Famer Jaromir Jagr.
The Regina, Saskatchewan native lit the lamp 37 times and finished with 67 points.
Hartnell played in his first career NHL All-Star Game in which he pledged $1,000 to a charity of his choice every time he fell during the game. This created one of the funnier All-Star Game moments in recent memory when Philadelphia Flyers and Team Alfredsson teammate Claude Giroux tried tripping his philanthropic teammate while play continued.
Paired against Art Ross Trophy winner Evgeni Malkin, Hartnell failed to advance to the semifinals, but deserved the top eight for his productive year and charitable efforts.
The first professional player from Slovenia, Anze Kopitar and his Kings are focused on winning a Stanley Cup.
Anze Kopitar led the Los Angeles Kings with 25 goals and 76 points this season. The 24-year-old finished with a plus-12 rating and only 20 PIMs in 82 regular-season games.
Kopitar continued scoring in the postseason, netting five goals and adding nine assists through 12 games.
The first player born and (primarily) raised in the small eastern European nation of Slovenia, Kopitar was matched up against the Flyers' popular center, Claude Giroux, a good battle on the ice, but a bit of a lopsided matchup in this popularity contest.
Kopitar lost the battle for the cover, but he's got another prize in mind: the 2012 Stanley Cup.
Tavares has enjoyed success on Long Island despite playing on a relatively weak Islanders team.
John Tavares led the Islanders with 81 points this season, and his 31 goals trailed only Matt Moulson's 36 for the team lead.
The former first-overall draft pick played in his first NHL All-Star Game this season.
Playing on the lowly Islanders hinders the chances of Tavares advancing past the top eight, especially against a popular veteran from "Hockeytown" named Pavel Datsyuk.
The 21-year-old is, however, a very popular player throughout hockey circles everywhere, and I doubt he has many problems with the ladies.
Pavel Datsyuk has risen to the top of the NHL after being the 171st overall draft pick in 1998.
Pavel Datsyuk failed to score more than 20 goals for the first time in eight seasons, but he still managed 67 points, a plus-21 rating and only 14 PIMs in 70 games.
One of the most successful draft picks in the history of the NHL entry draft, Datsyuk consistently contends for both the Selke Trophy as the league's top defensive forward and the Lady Byng Trophy as the league's most gentlemanly player.
Datsyuk looks to be slowing down a bit, but the four-time NHL All-Star and two-time Stanley Cup champion deserves the recognition of a spot on the NHL '13 cover as much as any player.
Pekka Rinne has been one of the NHL's best goalies in recent years.
Pekka Rinne finished his third consecutive season of 30 or more wins with a league-leading 43 victories this year.
The 29-year-old earned his second career Vezina Trophy nomination as the league's top goaltender after finishing with a 2.39 goals-against average, a .923 save percentage and five shutouts.
A human highlight machine, the Finnish goaltender may deserve a spot on the cover simply to compensate for his seemingly annual snub from NHL All-Star Games.
However, in a battle of the goalies against the sharp-dressed, popular Henrik Lundqvist, Rinne needs any and all support to advance to the next round.
Evgeni Malkin captured his second career Art Ross Trophy this season.
Evgeni Malkin dominated the NHL for much of the regular season and won his second career Art Ross Trophy as the league's leading scorer with 50 goals and 109 points in 75 games.
The 25-year-old Russian superstar represented the Penguins in his fourth NHL All-Star Game. He earned nominations for both the Hart Trophy as the league's regular-season MVP and the Ted Lindsay Award as the NHL's most outstanding player as voted by the NHL Player's Association.
The only thing preventing the Penguins assistant captain from making it on the cover of NHL '13 is a face only a mother could love—a mother and a shallow girl who only sees a big ol' $8.7 million yearly contract, but that's another story.
Henrik Lundqvist has been arguably the league's best goaltender for the past five or so seasons.
Henrik Lundqvist led his Rangers to a first-place finish in the Eastern Conference and within one win of the Presidents' Trophy as the league's best regular-season team.
The 30-year-old finished behind only Nashville's Pekka Rinne and Pittsburgh's Marc-Andre Fleury with 39 wins, fourth in the NHL with a 1.97 goals-against average and tied for third place with a .930 save percentage.
Lundqvist continued his sensational play in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs, helping his Rangers advance to within one game of an Eastern Conference championship.
The Swede received a nomination for both the Vezina Trophy as the league's top goaltender and the Hart Trophy as the league's regular-season MVP.
Lundqvist has the chance to be the first goaltender on an NHL game since the Florida Panthers' John Vanbiesbrouck on the cover of NHL '97.
Claude Giroux emerged as an NHL superstar this season.
Claude Giroux emerged as an NHL superstar after quite the roster shakeup in Philadelphia. Learning from future Hall of Famer and eighth all-time leading scorer Jaromir Jagr, Giroux finished behind only Evgeni Malkin and Steven Stamkos with 93 points in 77 games.
The 24-year-old played in his second consecutive NHL All-Star Game and still boasts the highest point total in the 2012 NHL playoffs despite a second-round exit, finishing with 17 points in only 10 games.
However, the biggest reason Giroux gets the nod is his boyish good looks, curly red "flow" (or hockey hair in layman's terms) and a classic "gappy" hockey smile. A true beaut by hockey standards, and the player most likely to be on the cover of EA Sports NHL '13.