NHL Entry Draft 2003: Best Draft Class of All Time Continues To Impress

James CriderCorrespondent IJanuary 24, 2011

PITTSBURGH - NOVEMBER 19:  Eric Staal #12 of the Carolina Hurricanes battle for position with Paul Martin #7 of the Pittsburgh Penguins in front of goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury #29 of the Pittsburgh Penguins on November 19, 2010 at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

There have been many great entry drafts in the history of the NHL, but none stands out quite like the 2003 draft, which was held in Nashville Tennessee.

Of the 292 players selected on the weekend of June 21 and 22, a whopping 126 players have appeared in at least one NHL game.

Round 1 of the draft has literally been the foundation of some of the top teams in the NHL today.

The Pittsburgh Penguins and Carolina Hurricanes nabbed Marc-Andre Fleury and Eric Staal first and second (respectively), while the Nashville Predators, Calgary Flames, Chicago Blackhawks and Minnesota Wild began building their blue lines with defensemen Ryan Suter (seventh), Dion Phaneuf (ninth), Brent Seabrook (14th), and Brent Burns (20th), respectively.

Both the Anaheim Ducks and Philadelphia Flyers double dipped in the first round, with Anaheim drafting star forwards Ryan Getzlaf (19th) and Corey Perry (28th), while the Flyers took Jeff Carter (11th) and Mike Richards (24th).

The second round of the 2003 draft wasn't much of a drop-off.

In it, Shea Weber (49th) of the Nashville Predators, Jimmy Howard (64th) of the Detroit Red Wings, David Backes (62nd) of the St. Louis Blues, Matt Carle (47th) of the Philadelphia Flyers, Patrice Bergeron (45th) of the Boston Bruins and Loui Eriksson (33rd) of the Dallas Stars are currently making significant impacts with their current NHL clubs, and are the caliber of players that a general manager would hope to get with a top-10 pick in most drafts.

Of course, 2003 wasn't most drafts.

Other names of note taken during rounds three through seven include Clarke MacArthur (74th) of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Jan Hejda (106th) of the Columbus Blue Jackets, Lee Stempniak (148th) of the Phoenix Coyotes and Joe Pavelski (205th) of the San Jose Sharks.

The eighth and ninth rounds in particular go to show why every pick counts. The players who came out of these rounds in 2003 include Jaroslav Halak (271st) of the St. Louis Blues, David Jones (288th) of the Colorado Avalanche, Brian Elliott (291st) of the Ottawa Senators, Matt Moulson (263rd) of the New York Islanders, Shane O'Brien (250th) of the Nashville Predators and Tanner Glass (265th) of the Vancouver Canucks.

More impressively, Tobias Enstrom (239th) and Dustin Byfuglien (245th), both star defensemen for the emerging Atlanta Thrashers, were drafted in the eighth round.

While all of the rounds produced excellent talent, the first round appears to be the gift that keeps on giving. During the 2010-2011, forwards Anthony Stewart of the Atlanta Thrashers, Brian Boyle of the New York Rangers, and Jeff Tambellini of the Vancouver Canucks (who, ironically, were drafted 25th, 26th, and 27th) have all gone from draft bust status to becoming bona fide NHLers.

All three have been traded at least once, but this season have helped their teams maintain playoff spots. Through 50 NHL games this season, Stewart is second among Atlanta Thrasher forwards with 28 points, while Tambellini has chipped in nine goals for the Canucks. Boyle's 17 goals lead the New York Rangers.

To date, the only player drafted in the first round of the 2003 draft not to play a single NHL game is Hugh Jessiman, whom the Rangers took 12th (consider that the Kings took current captain Dustin Brown 13th).

Even though the hype around Jessiman was much less than historic busts like Alexadre Daigle, many consider him the biggest bust of all time given that the Rangers could have taken players like Zach Parise (17th) or Ryan Kesler (23rd) instead.

But in the end, they've made up for it by acquiring Brian Boyle, and like every other NHL team are gaining significant return from a player taken in the 2003 draft class.