I'm fairly new to Ice Hockey but entirely new to the NHL series despite being a Fifa player since the '95 version! I have to say, I find it far more realistic to hockey than Fifa is to football. The detail is incredible. I was impressed by how much detail there is in the commmentary, they even referred to the last game I played and what a certain player did in it. The arena announcer announces scorers and assists. Overall it's an incredibly realistic experience.
Regarding gameplay, it was tricky at first even on rookie level, but I got the hang of defending and there is a great satisfaction to be had in scoring although it often takes a lot of shooting to score but I'd rather it be a challenge than for it to be easy to score. There's also a great variety of goals that can be scored. A minor issue I found was that I never got powerplays. In about 50 games as Sudbury Wolves I got 2 or 3 powerplays. However, since starting an NHL season on Pro level I've had a few more and the opposition is far more physical on that level. Saying that, I've found that very few fights occur during a game.
There's a great number of options for game modes but it's a shame there's no career or manager mode, only a single season mode. The winter classic is great (and an easy trophy) but I haven't played online very much and I've had problems connecting with both NHL and Fifa. The GM mode could be good but a drawback is that if you don't have many friends who play NHL (which is likely in the UK) then I'm not sure there's a way to enter that mode of play.
I give this 5 stars and it's highly addictvie but if they added the British Elite League, I'd add some metaphorical stars!