Another piece of the puzzle is the ability of the top level players to understand how the AI works from both experience and game knowledge.
@danglerintroduced me to a better d-man partnership for Montreal using Odelein instead of Schneider, which works better for my style of play because the way Odelein positions himself on defense is 'better' than Schneider. @angryjay93and I have discussed the spread of AI defenders in the defensive zone and how he sets up his man controlled defender depending on zone entry and how he expects the AI to respond. @danTML7has mentioned on his stream how elite players place their offensive pieces in general areas before passing during possession moves after zone entry which allows for better organization of attack. @JSchmidtand I discussed while playing his ability to eliminate AI threats from his consideration because the AI skated out of position which allows him to attack my skaters with no worry of leaving a true threat open, forcing me into movements that are self defeating. @kingraphhas discussed chemistry issues (as has AJ) on streams about certain teams inability during games to have the AI move in expected ways to maximize the talent on the roster and how elite players recognize it early enough to adjust on the fly. We've all seen UncleSeth manipulate his AI attackers through judicious use of Defensemen entering and exiting the zone to create matchups for other players the AI has moved into the zone at speed.
C level players are not thinking on that level - the question: 'why did he do that?' when referring to an AI player doing something 'odd' is greater in C. B level players such as myself understand that the AI is going to move the players in a certain way, and try to manipulate our attacks/defenses to maximize what we perceive the AI to be doing. low-A players start to manipulate through their own skating and player movement the AI coupled with a greater understanding of what the AI is doing depending on circumstance. The top A players are actively maneuvering their players on the ice to 'force' the AI to compensate by moving into better, more advantageous positions on the ice.
I've exhied/league played against all of the top guys and outside of my own mistakes (which i need to fix and is a big part of moving from B to A) - the huge differentiator, once adjusting for the experience gap, is the ability of the elite players to 'know' where the AI players are at almost all times while also forcing the AI to adjust to better positions through movements in both the attack and defense phase of the game.
N.B. - AI is just an easy way of talking about this, it is obviously a set of logic in the game to move player sprites in ways depending on the various IF-THEN statements that define the player sprite movement on the ice