It is usually said that it takes five years before one can fully judge a draft. Well, it doesn't take a mathematician to figure out that it's been five years since the 2003 NHL Entry Draft. This humble writer will now take a look back at the first round and at those late round sleepers who turned out to be big-time players.
In retrospect, just about everyone in the top ten hit a home run with their pick. Marc Andre Fleury, the #1 overall pick, has had hurdles to overcome but is finally coming into his own and has been extremely stout in the playoffs thusfar.
Eric Staal and Nathan Horton are stars for their respective Southeast Division teams (Carolina and Florida). Not only that, but they are both arugably the face of their franchises. I'd say those picks were spent well.
Ah, the first whiff of the day. Nikolai Zherdev was being touted as the most gifted player in the draft. Well, there is certainly no denying his abilities. However, his effort and desire were more than lack-luster and he hasn't ever gotten it together. Fans and the front office seem to be losing patience and Zherdev could be on the outs.
The Thomas Vanek era in Buffalo started well enough. Vanek had a solid rookie campaign followed by 46 goals in 2006-2007. But after the Sabres lost Chris Drury and Daniel Briere to free agency, the Sabres were forced to match a $50 million offer sheet from Edmonton to retain Vanek. The pressure didn't seem to do good for Vanek who struggled mightily for most of the year before finally exploding in the final two months. Still, he's a big, strong skater with a good shot so he could easily return to his 2006-2007 form.
Ok, maybe the sixth pick wasn't a home run, but it was still a solid pick. Milan Michalek has been steady, if unspectacular, in the loaded Sharks lineup. Some feel he should be a better offensive player and the potential is certainly there. I would bet that if he got a full season under his belt with Joe Thornton, his stats would shoot up.
Ryan Suter has been a top four defender for the Preds and apart of their stellar young defensive corps. He has good puck skills but his stats haven't jumped out. Just a steady player and a solid pick here.
No longer with his original team (Atlanta) thanks to a horrendous trade, Cobourn is thriving in Philly. He's responsible in his own end, physical and has a bit of touch in the offensive end. Everyday, the trade that sent him to Philly for aging, overpaid vet Alexei Zhitnik looks more and more ridiculous.
Arguably the best player from this draft and no doubt the best defenseman, Dion Phaneuf slid to the Flames at number nine. This generation's Scott Stevens, he lowers the boom and enjoys it. He also has a good offensive game to boot and has finally rounded into top form, being nominated for the Norris Trophy this season.
Montreal had to wait awhile to get a return on the number ten pick, but Andrei Kostitsyn is delivering. He and his brother Sergei have been electrifying crowds at the Bell Centre and are a big reason the Habs locked up the #1 seed in the East.
Zach Parise, Ryan Getzlaf and Jeff Carter undoubtedly would be top 10 picks if this was done again. Carter has morphed into the star of the Flyers, an all-around stellar player. Nilsson, Fehr, Jessiman and Boyle have been non-contributorrs thus far, with Fehr being the closest to making an impact if he could remain healthy.
The second round had some hidden gems in Patrice Bergeron, an offensive star for Boston, Matt Carle, the slick skating defender for San Jose, and Shea Weber who, along with Suter, anchors that youthful Nashville defense.
Fifth rounder Lee Stempniak has been a pleasant surprise for the Blues, potting 54 goals and 117 points in his 219 games as a Blue.
Atlanta found a stud on defense in Tobias Enstrom, an eightround pick who tabbed 38 points and contributed solid defensive play in his rookie campaign.
Overall, this draft hasn't quite yielded a superduper-star in the Crosby, Malkin, Ovechkin mold, but there is a ton of skill and star potential there. Staal, Carter, Phaneuf and Horton are on the cusp, with Vanek looking to regain his form and join them.