Most years, a draft class is remembered solely for who went first.
Then there are the players who came out of the Draft Class of 2003. Of the 30 players selected in the first round, all but two already have played in the National Hockey League, and five of them were on the ice during All-Star weekend in Atlanta.
Eric Staal (No. 2, Carolina), Dion Phaneuf (No. 9, Calgary), Ryan Getzlaf (No. 19, Anaheim), Mike Richards (No. 24, Philadelphia) and Corey Perry (No. 28, Anaheim) all made solid showings on the grand stage.
“I know when I was growing up and in Junior, there was a lot of talk about the 1985-born players,” said Richards.
That talk has been well deserved. The five All-Stars from the Draft Class of ’03 already have earned their weight in hardware. Staal, Perry and Getzlaf have their names inscribed on the Stanley Cup, and Richards captained what many consider the greatest Under-20 team of all time, the 2005 World Junior Championship gold-medal squad that included Perry, Getzlaf and Phaneuf.
Three of the five come from the Ontario Hockey League -- Staal (Peterborough), Perry (London) and Richards (Kitchener) -- while Phaneuf (Red Deer) and Getzlaf (Calgary) battled in the Western Hockey League.
“I’ve battled with him for a long time,” Getzlaf said of Phaneuf. “He played up the road in Red Deer, I was in Calgary. We played them 10, 12 times a year, played him in the playoffs twice. I saw him just about every shift of my Junior career.”
Now, with Getzlaf in Anaheim and Phaneuf in Calgary, they still see each other a few times during the season. And with both playing prominent roles on their respective teams, they still see a lot of each other.
The tie that binds four of the five, though, is the remarkable team that won the first of what now has become four straight gold medals for the Canadian team at the World Junior Championships, in Grand Forks, N.D.
Many of those players had come home with a disappointing silver medal the previous year; that hunger, combined with a talent-laden roster – one that didn’t even include Staal, who already had a full NHL season under his belt and spent the campaign playing in the American Hockey League – romped over an Alexander Ovechkin-led Russian team, 6-1, in the gold-medal game.
Getzlaf scored the Canadians’ first goal, while Phaneuf added the final tally. Phaneuf was named the tournament’s best defenseman and earned a spot on the All-Tournament team.
“That was a real special team we had in Grand Forks,” said Phaneuf. “It was a lot of fun, a great group of guys.”
Now that talent has shown itself at the NHL level.
In his second season, 2005-06, Staal had 45 goals and 100 points, then led all scorers with 19 assists and 28 points in 25 playoff games as Carolina won its first Stanley Cup.
Getzlaf and Perry played major roles in the Ducks’ march to last season’s championship, finishing 1-2 on the team in playoff scoring.
“It was a great draft,” said Staal. “We had a lot of skilled guys and a lot of great players. It’s neat to see a lot of those familiar faces you get to see growing up, playing Juniors, the World Juniors, that sort of thing. It’s neat to see everyone here again.”
The 2008 All-Star Game was the first for Richards, Perry and Getzlaf.
Richards is having a career season for the resurgent Flyers, leading the team with 21 goals, 34 assists, 55 points, a plus-13 rating, four shorthanded goals and five game-winning scores.
Perry leads the Ducks with 26 goals, while Getzlaf leads his team with 39 assists, 58 points and a plus-24 rating.
Staal and Phaneuf made their second All-Star appearances, with Phaneuf earning the starting nod by virtue of fan balloting that placed him second among Western Conference defensemen to Detroit’s Nicklas Lidstrom.
Staal is tied for eighth in the League with 27 goals, and he leads Carolina in goals and points (48).
Phaneuf is a plus-3 while playing more than 26 minutes a night for a Calgary team in a close fight for the Northwest Division title. He plays in all situations, and usually against the other team’s top players.
“It’s pretty remarkable,” said Perry. “Our age group was something special and we’re just going to keep running with it.”
Contact Adam Kimelman at email@example.com