Twenty years after the most remarkable NFL draft ever, in 1983, and 10 years prior to what appears to be a promising 2013 NHL draft came along a special class of players, whose impact is still being felt in awards conversations, trade discussions and this week’s Stanley Cup final.
The 2003 NHL Entry Draft, which celebrates its 10-year anniversary, offers arguably the greatest cumulative pool of hockey talent in the history of the game. The list overflows with creative scorers, shutdown defencemen and starting goaltenders.
Just how deep is this class? The St. Louis Blues’ playoff starter, Brian Elliott, was taken 291st overall (second last). How deep? The average player selected in 2003 who played in the NHL has averaged more than 40 career goals and 100 career points — and that includes one-game wonders like New Jersey’s Joey Tenute dragging the class down.
So without further ado, here is the remarkable 2003 entry class, redrafted in its proper order by a dozen sportsnet.ca writers and the benefit of hindsight.
1. Eric Staal (Peterborough Petes), Pittsburgh Penguins
Penguins’ original selection: Marc-Andre Fleury Staal’s original overall draft placement: 2
Wanting to build around a dynamic centreman, the Penguins seriously considered Ryan Getzlaf or Patrice Bergeron, but Staal’s best-in-class ranking in goals (268), assists (359) and games played (690) cannot be denied. Plus, Pittsburgh had the foresight to know they could use Eric as bait to lure his talented younger brothers their way.
2. Ryan Getzlaf (Calgary Hitmen), Carolina Hurricanes Hurricanes’ original selection: Eric Staal Getzlaf’s original overall draft placement: 19
While there’s no chance of a Getzlaf family reunion in Carolina, the Regina native’s play-making ability (class-leading 369 assists), leadership qualities and capabilities as a two-way centre make him the perfect building block for the Hurricanes.
3. Shea Weber (Kelowna Rockets), Florida Panthers Panthers’ original selection: Nathan Horton Weber’s original overall draft placement: 49
Weber is the rare shutdown defenceman that offers size, skill, and leadership for a franchise that has very little of it. The only correlation of Stanley Cup winners in the past decade is a No. 1 D-man, and Weber is certainly that. And if he doesn’t pan out, Florida senses Philly might be interested down the road.
4. Zach Parise (University of North Dakota), Columbus Blue Jackets
Blue Jackets’ original selection: Nikolai Zherdev Parise’s original overall draft placement: 17
Although not the biggest player out there, Parise gives Columbus the perfect play-making complement to last year’s first overall pick Rick Nash. Equal parts creative skill and character, Parise has put up big numbers throughout his college career and has taken huge strides to improve his defensive game. Nash and Parise should push this fledgling organization forward.
5. Corey Perry (London Knights), Buffalo Sabres
Sabres’ original selection: Thomas Vanek Perry’s original overall draft placement: 28
Anytime a club can nab a Hart Trophy winner in the fifth slot, that’s generally considered a wise move. Surely the Sabres could find a spot in their lineup for an Olympic gold medalist and a Stanley Cup champion capable of throwing up a 50-goal campaign.
6. Patrice Bergeron (Acadie-Bathurst Titan), San Jose Sharks
Sharks’ original selection: Milan Michalek Bergeron’s original overall draft placement: 45
Bergeron is the perfect player, as witnessed in this year’s Stanley Cup final. He is the best forward in the league defensively and ranks sixth in points from the ’03 draft class. Not only is he willing to play hurt, he’s a leader and a player any team would love to build around.
7. Thomas Vanek (University of Minnesota), Nashville Predators
Predators’ original selection: Ryan Suter Vanek’s original overall draft placement: 5
Snipers of Vanek’s quality (he’s averaged 35 goals per 82 games throughout his career) and reliability (he’s never missed more than 11 games in a season) are a rare breed. Plus, rumour has it he DJs at local clubs after team victories. That’s cool, as long as those milk crates are carrying some Willie Nelson LPs.
8. Jimmy Howard (University of Maine), Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets
Thrashers’ original selection: Braydon Coburn Howard’s original overall draft placement: 64
In his career, the American-born goaltender has 131 wins compared to 67 losses. In the three years prior to the 2012 lockout, Howard won 37 games twice and 35 games once while dealing with the pressure of playing for a Cup contender. “All I do is win” is the anthology of Howard’s career so far, and he should bring some of that luck to a franchise that hasn’t had much of it.
9. Ryan Suter (U.S. Junior National Team), Calgary Flames
Flames’ original selection: Dion Phaneuf Suter’s original overall draft placement: 7
Suter was nominated for the Norris Trophy in 2013 and led the league in ice time with more than 27 minutes per game. Suter’s style of play bores opposing forwards to death, forcing them to routinely cough up the puck to the Madison, Wisconsin, native. A stabilizing presence in a horse town.
10. Dion Phaneuf (Red Deer Rebels), Montreal Canadiens
Canadiens’ original selection: Andrei Kostitsyn Phaneuf’s original overall draft placement: 9
Most points among defencemen in this draft class with 340; a slap shot that has opposing goalies trembling in their pads; some of the best leadership qualities in the NHL; and a fiancée that starred in the classic television program Popular Mechanics for Kids: What more could Habs fans ask for than to have the captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs join their team?
11. Marc-Andre Fleury (Cape Breton), Philadelphia Flyers
Flyers’ original selection: Jeff Carter Fleury’s original overall draft placement: 1
Surprised to see Les Habitants pass on a French-Canadian goaltender, the Flyers don’t hesitate to scoop up Fleury to fill a long-time void. Fleury’s good for at least 35 wins a season and, before his struggles in the 2013 NHL playoffs, he proved he can handle the postseason pressure by taking the Pens to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final in back-to-back years, winning it all in 2008-09. And, with the Flyers’ history of bringing in goalies, nothing could possibly go wrong here, right?
12. Brent Seabrook (Lethbridge Hurricanes), New York Rangers
Rangers’ original selection: Hugh Jessiman Seabrook’s original overall draft placement: 14
Seabrook is a career plus-88 and has had three seasons of at least plus-20. As a shutdown defenceman he’ll be a fine fit for a Henrik Lundqvist-led Rangers team, and his smarts on the powerplay and defending it could really help out an anemic New York special teams unit and a defence that too heavily relies on Lundqvist’s brilliance.
13. Jeff Carter (Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds), Los Angeles Kings
Kings’ original selection: Dustin Brown Carter’s original overall draft placement: 11
Let’s cut out the middlemen, shall we? Pure goal-scorers don’t grow on trees, and the 2003 Kings will need some firepower up front if they are to win their first-ever Stanley Cup. Two hundred twenty-eight NHL goals puts Carter third in the category among this class. A steal at pick 13. Plus, if the Kings nab the 2013 Western Conference goal-scoring leader now, it’ll save Philly and Columbus some embarrassment down the road.
14. Mike Richards (Kitchener Rangers), Chicago Blackhawks
Blackhawks’ original selection: Brent Seabrook Ricahrds’ original overall draft placement: 24
Engrossed in the NHL’s longest active Stanley Cup drought, the 2003 Blackhawks, led by the always exciting Steve Sullivan, are in desperate need of a leader. Richards is just that. Ranked fourth in his draft class in NHL assists (262), Richards will bring a guidance and play-making ability that should start a transformation in Chicago.
15. Dustin Brown (Guelph Storm), New York Islanders
Islanders’ original selection: Robert Nilsson Brown’s original overall draft placement: 13
OK, geniuses, how did y’all let a Stanley Cup-winning captain slip this far? The Islanders are pleased to bring in a rock-solid forward who can contribute in all three zones — unlike some of the above picks (Vanek, cough, cough). Brown is a proven leader and will be a staple on the top line for years to come. Thanks, guys.
16. Dustin Byfuglien (Prince George Cougars), San Jose Sharks
Sharks’ original selection: Steve Bernier Byfuglien’s original overall draft placement: 245
One of the most consistent offensively productive defencemen in the NHL the last six years, the man they call “Big Buff” has been an all-star and a Cup champion, utilizing his monstrous frame (6’5″, 265 pounds) and positively blistering slap shot to great effect. He proved last year that his defence is improving and that he can handle the big minutes as a top defender, although his decision-making wanes when it comes to alcohol and boats. Nevertheless, we’re glad to have him.
17. Loui Eriksson (Frolunda HC), New Jersey Devils
Devils’ original selection: Zach Parise Eriksson’s original overall draft placement: 33
The underrated Eriksson was the model of consistency from 2008 through 2012, averaging close to 70 points per season on a Stars team with little supportive talent. He scored more than 20 goals in each of those seasons, topping out at 36 in ’08. A great mix of size, skill and speed, Eriksson’s production could reach new highs in Jersey. The perfect staple on the Devils’ top line.
18. David Backes (Lincoln Stars), Washington Capitals
Capitals’ original selection: Eric Fehr Backes’s original overall draft placement: 62
The real-life St. Louis Blues captain can impact the game with his brute physicality and finesse around the net. A great combination of strength and skill, Backes is a warrior and would help alleviate the pressure placed on Alex Ovechkin.
19. Matt Moulson (Cornell University), Anaheim Ducks
Ducks’ original selection: Ryan Getzlaf Moulson’s original overall draft placement: 263
Since the joining the Islanders (and John Tavares’ line) in time for the 2009-10, Moulson has emerged as one of the league’s most consistent snipers, averaging 34 goals per 82 games. Plus, just imagine the damage that flow of his could do waving from a convertible in the California sun.
Wild’s original selection: Brent Burns Burns’ original overall draft placement: 20
Burns is a perfect fit for Minnesota because he best embodies what it means to be a wild man. He has the greasy bedhead, unkempt beard, and his play is unpredictable — he can suit up as a forward or defenceman. The call of the Wild will include the Ajax, Ont., native because the franchise needs depth on the blue line as there is a serious drop-off after Ryan Suter, whose rock-solid defensive game would complement the smooth-skating, offensively-minded Burns.
21. Ryan Kesler (Ohio State university), Boston Bruins
Bruins’ original selection: Mark Stuart Kesler’s original overall draft placement: 23
A reliable forward who can create offence and yet still take defensive responsibility? Yeah, that sounds like a player that fits the Bruins’ M.O. Plus, Boston relishes the notion of stealing something else away from the Canucks.
Oilers’ original selection: Marc-Antoine Pouliot Crawford’s original overall draft placement: 52
Fresh off his Stanley Cup-winning performance, it’s a tragedy Crawford slipped this far down the draft order. In three seasons as the Blackhawks’ starter he’s 82-40-18, and he arguably should have won the Conn Smythe this year (16-7 playoff record, .932 save percentage, 1.84 GAA). The 2013 postseason also proved he can grow a killer beard, and that’s a valuable skill to possess during frigid Edmonton winters.
23. Joe Pavelski (Waterloo), Vancouver Canucks
Canucks’ original selection: Ryan Kesler Pavelski’s original overall draft placement: 205
There’s a reason why Brian Burke called the U.S. forward a “Swiss Army knife” at the 2010 Olympics: Pavelski can do it all. First off, he’s established himself as one of the more reliable two-way centres in the game. He can be a streaky scorer but is good for 25 to 30 goals a season while still playing big shut-down minutes at even strength and on the penalty kill. He’s also not afraid to take the big faceoff — Pavelski took and won the draw in the dying seconds of the gold-medal game at Vancouver 2010, which resulted in the Americans scoring to force overtime vs. Canada.
24. Nathan Horton (Oshawa Generals), Philadelphia Flyers
Flyers’ original selection: Mike Richards Horton’s original overall draft placement: 3
Despite being a tad injury prone, Horton is a dynamic power forward with size, speed and skill. Horton would be an excellent complement to Claude Giroux on Philly’s top line. It’s also a good thing Horton’s off-ice activities won’t become a distraction to the team and management, something the Flyers’ scouting staff warned us about Carter and Richards.
25. Jaroslav Halak (Bratislava Jrs.), Florida Panthers
Panthers’ original selection: Anthony Stewart Halak’s original overall draft placement: 271
A recent William Jennings winner (2011-12), Halak was originally overlooked by the 2003 GMs to such a degree that he hung around until the ninth round. The league doesn’t even bother drafting for nine rounds anymore. Halak backstopped the Habs to memorable playoff run in 2010, and despite his shaky half-season in 2013, the Slovakian wields a remarkable 109-67-21 NHL record, with 22 shutouts and a .918 save percentage. Better — his save rate goes up come playoff time.
26. Milan Michalek (Ceske Budejovice), Los Angeles Kings
Kings’ original selection: Brian Boyle Michalek’s original overall draft placement: 6
The 28-year-old forward ranks 12th in his draft class in points with 355 and, prior to suffering a concussion in December of 2011, Michalek showed off his scoring prowess, leading the league in goals with 19. Michalek finished that season with a career-high 35 goals. The Czech native is a welcome addition to an ’03 Kings squad whose leading scorer, Ziggy Palffy, racked up 42 more points than any other player on the team. Who knows? They could use him to bring Dany Heatley to Hollywood.
27. Matt Carle (River City Lancers), Los Angeles Kings
Kings’ original selection: Jeff Tambellini Carle’s original overall draft placement: 47
The Kings aren’t thrilled with many of the remaining options left on the board, so they turn to one of the more reliable puck-moving defencemen in the field. The Kings hear Carle is a big fan of In-N-Out Burger, so they’ll do everything they can to keep him on the West Coast.
28. Tobias Enstrom (Modo Hockey Ornskoldsvik), Anaheim Ducks
Ducks’ original selection: Corey Perry Enstrom’s original overall draft placement: 239
Not exactly overjoyed that Corey Perry has been taken, the Ducks shift focus from offence to defence and grab Enstrom, a dependable blue-liner capable of contributing as many as 50 points on the offensive side — something he did twice in Atlanta.
29. Lee Stempniak (Dartmouth College), Ottawa Senators
Senators’ original selection: Patrick Eaves Stempniak’s original overall draft placement: 148
A bit of a late bloomer and another player who lingered deep in the original draft, Stempniak didn’t really come into his own until 2013, when he took on an increased role with a rebuilding Flames team. The Senators imagine a hard worker like Stempniak flourishing under coach Paul MacLean 20 years from draft day.
30. Brian Elliott (Ajax Axemen), St. Louis Blues
Blues’ original selection: Shawn Belle Elliott’s original overall draft placement: 291
Elliott has thrived in the Blues’ system — playing in an all-star game and sharing a Jennings Trophy will Halak — so why not yank a Blues sweater over his head right from the beginning and save Ottawa some trouble?