Every night. And I mean every night, while scanning NHL games, there's an item about players from the first round of the 2003 Entry Draft making an impact in the NHL. And it's no coincidence.
On Hall of Fame induction night in Toronto, there were only two games in the NHL. Yet there was little-used winger Eric Fehr
, Washington's first-round pick in 2003, scoring his first goal of the season against Tampa Bay. But that's just a juicy bottom-line tidbit to the real story about this draft class that is quickly rivaling the best in NHL history. The '03 group is right there along with 1979 (Ray Bourque, Mike Gartner and Michel Goulet) and 1993 (Chris Pronger
, Paul Kariya
and Saku Koivu
"I remember being a young scout for the Washington Capitals
and listening to all of the veterans talk about that 1979 draft and all I know is that we've been using that draft as a measuring stick for all other drafts since," said Anaheim assistant GM David McNab, he of more than 30 NHL season and a long-time scouting guru in Washington, Hartford and New York with the Rangers. "Names like Bourque and Gartner, Goulet and (Kevin) Lowe and (Rob) Ramage, (Perry) Turnbull, (Mike) Foligno, (Rick) Vaive, (Craig) Hartsburg, (Laurie) Boschman, (Mike) Ramsey, (Paul) Reinhart, (Brian) Propp, (Brad) McCrimmon, (Jay) Wells, (Duane) Sutter.
"I think all 21 players in the first round of that draft played regularly in the NHL, didn't they? I'm not in that position of beating the bushes to see all of the top prospects anymore, but I got the sense that the 2003 draft was something very, very special when I heard our scouts buzzing about guys in our meetings. It was the same kind of buzz I heard scouts all over North America tell me about that 1979 draft."
McNab's Ducks wound up with Ryan Getzlaf
and Corey Perry
in the first round of the '03 draft. Perhaps that's evidence enough.
On a given night, we'll find goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury
making acrobatic saves. We'll see Thomas Vanek
challenging for the League lead in goals along with Zach Parise
. We see the likes of Eric Staal
, Dustin Brown
, Mike Richards
, Jeff Carter
, Getzlaf, Perry, Nathan Horton
and Ryan Kesler
making power moves toward the net. Nikolai Zherdev
and Andrei Kostitsyn
will dangle with the best of them, and Milan Michalek
will dazzle with his speed. And how about defensemen Dion Phaneuf
, Braydon Coburn
, Ryan Suter
, Brent Burns
and Brent Seabrook
That's 19 impact players from one draft -- and arguably more if you include NHL regulars Steve Bernier
, Robert Nilsson
, Mark Stuart
, Marc-Antoine Pouliot
, Patrick Eaves
, Anthony Stewart
and Jeff Tambellini
During the Stanley Cup Final last spring, Pittsburgh Penguins
goalie coach Gilles Meloche talked about Fleury, his stingy, young netminder, who was the first pick in that 2003 draft of riches.
"We had the No. 3 pick in the draft and we knew we were going to get a great prospect anywhere in the top 12-15 players, but we were looking to build a championship team from goal on out and it was important for us to get a goalie somewhere along the line -- and not too many goalies like Marc-Andre come along," Meloche explained. "We felt we had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get that goaltender for the present and the future in Marc-Andre Fleury
Two things were very true about that statement. There were 12-15 and more top players in that draft ... plus Fleury was indeed very, very special.
So on June 21, 2003, Meloche, a pretty good goaltender himself, convinced then-Pittsburgh GM Craig Patrick to make the trade -- a trade that included winger Mikael Samuelsson
, a first-round pick (third overall) and a second-rounder to Florida for the first pick and a third-rounder.
You certainly couldn't go wrong with a lineup right out of the box that included Fleury, Staal, Horton, Zherdev, Vanek, Michalek, Suter, Coburn, Phaneuf and Kostitsyn.