NHL 15 is finally here. The hugely popular hockey simulator officially launched at midnight in North America, and will hit European shelves a short time later on September 12. It's the first dip into the next-generation waters for the long-running franchise, and Electronic Arts Canada promised some big changes to the way the game plays. We were lucky enough to get our hands on it a few days early, and went through the different game modes to learn the mechanics. Whether you're a returning veteran or wobbly-legged rookie, here are a few tips to help make a smooth transition to NHL 15.

Move the Puck

Puck movement and possession are huge factors in hockey. Generally, the team that possesses the puck the most and moves it effectively will win the game. This is as true in NHL 15 as it is in real life, so it's a skill you’ll need to work on constantly.

When taking possession of the puck in your own zone, don't go for the low percentage pass up ice. The opposing team will frequently pick these off and go on the counter-attack. Instead, look for the open player in your zone and then take advantage of any skating room he or she has. Continue to move up ice, always making high percentage passes to gain the blue line. If you want to see this strategy in its truest form, watch a Detroit Red Wings game. The team from Hockeytown won several Stanley Cups by playing keep-away from their opponents.

Shoot the Puck

Now that you’re playing keep-away with the opposing team, it's time to start peppering their goalie with as much rubber as possible. Focus on quality chances from the slot or the point, but in general you just want to keep cycling the puck and shooting when the opportunity presents itself. As a general rule with taking a shot on net, it's never a bad idea, but it's a great idea if you can get some of your teammates to create traffic in front. As an additional piece of advice, don't worry about blasting it. If you have traffic in front it's often easier for your teammates to deflect the puck if it floats in there.

Cross Crease Passes

In our first few games of NHL 15 we quickly learned that, just as with real hockey, completing cross-crease passes are a great way to score goals. As we mentioned when talking about puck movement, work your way into the opposing team's zone and start making smart passes to open players. Try to work the puck into one of the corners or behind the net, then look for an open teammate for the tap in on the other side of the crease. It's not as easy to pull off on harder difficulties, but it is a great way to score goals in NHL 15 (or any other hockey scenario). Perfect this play and you'll run up the score in no time.

Adjust Your Strategies

If you're playing on a console, you can adjust your in-game strategies by pressing the left and right directional pads. Start doing this early to get into the habit, making sure to alter your team's approach based on the situation. Have you found yourself down a few goals with the clock ticking away? Try going for a more aggressive forecheck. If you're sitting on a one goal lead with under a minute to go, tell your forwards to ease up on the offense and play a more defensive focused game. It's not always easy to remember to adjust your strategies, but it's a skill that you should learn early if you hope to master NHL 15.

Raise the Difficulty

Consider this your graduation from Beginner's Tips, but once you find yourself scoring a little too much and going on win streaks, it's time to bump up the difficulty. We've been playing this series for a long time, but given the fact that NHL 15 comes with a few new features and mechanics we decided to start on Pro difficulty and Simulation for realism. After winning our first game 5-2, we quickly bumped things up a notch. It's not so much about how many goals you score as it is how easily you score them. If you want to improve your game you have to test yourself. No team ever won the Stanley Cup without challenging its players.

NHL 15 is available right now in North America, and September 12 in Europe. For more news and strategy regarding the game, be sure to keep a tab open to Prima Games.