To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first NHL Draft, NHL.com assembled a 13-member panel to select the best first-round picks of all time, based on selection number. NHL.com will feature one of the top first-round picks each day, beginning with the best No. 30 pick on June 1 and culminating with the all-time No. 1 pick on June 30, the day of the 2013 NHL Draft.
As the first round of the 2003 NHL Draft passed the midpoint, the New Jersey Devils saw an opportunity. They had their sights set on high-scoring University of North Dakota forward Zach Parise, but holding the No. 22 pick, there was little hope of Parise slipping that far.
One phone call to the Edmonton Oilers, and the offer of a third-round pick as a sweetener, was the cost to move up five spots and snag Parise at No. 17.
Parise spent one more season at North Dakota after the Devils drafted him, totaling 55 points in 37 games. He played for the United States at the 2004 IIHF World Junior Championship, where his 11 points in six games helped the U.S. team win gold for the first time and Parise was named the tournament's best forward.
He spent the 2004-05 season with the Devils' American Hockey League affiliate, the Albany Devils, then made his NHL debut a memorable one. His power-play goal with 35 seconds remaining in the first period against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Oct. 5, 2005 stood as the game-winner in a 5-1 Devils victory.
Parise finished his rookie season with 14 goals and 18 assists in 81 games, but that was just the appetizer for what was to come; he raised his totals in goals, assists, points and power-play goals each of the next three seasons.
It started quickly in the 2006-07 season, when Parise scored the first of two goals 26 seconds into the first period of the first game. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it was the fastest goal to start a season in Devils history. He finished the season with a team-best 31 goals and was named MVP of the NHL YoungStars Game, which was part of All-Star Weekend.
The next season Parise topped the team with 32 goals and 65 points, but his real breakout season came in 2009-10. He finished third in the League with 45 goals and fifth with 94 points -- the second-highest point total by any player in Devils history (Patrik Elias, 96, 2000-01). He played in the 2009 All-Star Game, and with 24 penalty minutes in 82 games, was a finalist for the Lady Byng Trophy.
He cemented his spot among the best American players in the game in 2009-10, totaling 38 goals and 82 points in 81 games and playing a leading role on the 2010 U.S. Olympic team with four goals and four assists in six games. He scored both goals in the Americans' 2-0 win against Switzerland in the quarterfinals, and his goal with 24 seconds left in the third period of the gold-medal game against Canada forced overtime. The United States lost and took home the silver medal, but Parise was named to the Olympic All-Star team.
His ascent came to a screeching halt 10 games into the 2010-11 season when Parise sustained a torn meniscus in his right knee, and surgery effectively ended his season.
Fully recovered for 2011-12, Parise was named Devils captain and had his typical outstanding season, finishing second on the team with 31 goals and third with 69 points. He was just as good in the postseason, tying for the team lead with eight goals as the Devils advanced to the Stanley Cup Final.
An unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2012, he returned to his native Minnesota, signing a 13-year, $98 million contract with the Minnesota Wild. He led the team with 18 goals and 38 points in 48 games, and the Wild returned to the postseason after a four-year absence.
Parise was the choice of eight of 13 members of NHL.com's Dream Draft panel.
"Parise is everything you would want in an elite-level player," NHL.com staff writer Mike G. Morreale said. "He despises losing, is a great teammate, ferocious on the puck, a special-teams demon, and a proven winner at every level. He was an MVP for the Devils two straight years, an NHL All-Star, and is a regular for Team USA on the international stage. He now plays for the Minnesota Wild, and was a key cog in helping the team earn its first playoff berth in five seasons in 2012-13."