The 2003 entry draft pool has been regarded by analysts the world over as one of the deepest and most talented groups the hockey world has ever seen. Because the next two draft years would see the NHL's two biggest superstars emerge in Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby, some of the names that were drafted in 2003 have been forgotten. However the players that have come out of this draft have molded themselves and their teams into contenders and in many cases Stanley Cup winners.
As an example of how deep this draft was, 28 out of the 30 first round picks have each played in at least 175 games with most having played over 300. Eight of the 21 players on this list were selected in the second round or later, showing just how much depth that was present even outside the star studded first round. This is a list of the top 21 players from that draft that are actively making an impact on their teams and are relied on day in and day out.
Although several of the picks from the 2003 draft made an immediate impact on their clubs, others—as with most draft picks—took time to develop. This is a short list of the up and comers of the draft and for the sake of argument, I defined up and comers as having played less than 200 games as a forward or defenseman and having played less than 100 for a goalie.
Crawford, selected in the second round and 52nd overall, broke into wonderful rookie form last season posting a .917 save percentage and even more impressive, a .927 in the playoffs against an offensively stacked Vancouver team. Unfortunately the Blackhawks came up one goal short and were eliminated in the first round. Chicago hopes that Crawford can maintain his impressive numbers for a sophomore campaign next season.
Jones was one of the last selected when he was drafted 288th overall by Colorado. After a few less than stellar seasons, Jones exceeded expectations last season when he posted 45 points in 77 games. Overall Jones has played in 167 games and has recorded 80 points.
Matt Moulson has played in 193 games for the Kings and Islanders since 2007. Also a late pick—ninth round at 263—was second in scoring on the Islanders this season with 53 points. With emerging stars in Tavares, Strome, and Niederreiter, it can be expected that Moulson will add to his career total of 111 points in the coming seasons.
Tobias Enstrom kicks off the list showing just how important the sometimes overlooked seventh, eighth and ninth rounds are when building a franchise. After playing in three seasons with the Swedish Elite League after he was drafted, Enstrom broke out in the 2007-2008 season with the Atlanta Thrashers posting 38 points in 82 games.
Since then Enstrom has played in 318 games, missing only 10 in four seasons, while also posting an impressive 171 points during that time. He was also selected to play in the 2011 All-Star game. Durable, offensively capable, and still young, Enstrom appears to be a star of the future for the newly founded Winnipeg club. Winnipeg fans have a lot to be excited about with their blue line being headed by Enstrom and…
Byfuglien is a Stanley Cup winner and an NHL All-Star at two positions, defense and right wing. Also selected in the eighth round by the Chicago Blackhawks, Byfuglien was essential in Chicago’s 2010 Stanley Cup run recording 18 points including 11 goals in their 22 game postseason.
Byfuglien was second in team scoring in Atlanta and fourth in points for defenseman in the league last season. Needless to say, No. 20 on this list is a steal at the 245th pick.
Michalek was drafted by the San Jose Sharks as their first round pick. Although he had a couple of career years in San Jose, he has slowed down a bit since moving to Ottawa in the deal that sent Dany Healtey to the Sharks. He is going to be expected to lead by example on the Ottawa top line next season, hoping to improve his last season total of 33 points in 66 games. His career has seen him post 281 points in a total of 449 games.
With the decline and eventual retirement of Chris Osgood after the 2010-2011 season, Jimmy Howard will be looked upon to take the reigns in goal for the future in Detroit. After his impressive 2009-2010 campaign that earned him a rookie of the year nomination, Howard went through somewhat of a slump, decreasing his .924 save percentage in 2010 to .908 in 2011. However all signs point towards a rebound from this second round pick and with a solid defense in front of him expect great numbers from Howard in the future.
Kesler has become famous for both his scoring ability as well as his defensive abilities as a forward. After a disappointing playoff exit in a dire Game 7 with the Boston Bruins, Kesler was awarded the Frank J. Selke trophy for his excellence in defense during the regular season. Overall Kesler has 288 points in 484 games played and if it wasn't for three semi-unimpressive seasons when he first broke into the NHL, he would be much higher on this list. Look for great things to come from this Vancouver forward in the next few seasons.
The Los Angeles Kings captain Dustin Brown became the youngest captain in Kings' history at the age of 23. Missing only 10 games since the lockout, Brown is extremely durable as well as offensively dangerous. With the talented Anze Kopitar, Brown has scored 141 and 305 points with the Kings. Many analysts are saying that this Kings group is the most talented it has been since the Gretzky days and big things are expected from the American-born captain Dustin Brown.
Pavelski is a Cinderella story of sorts. Drafted in the 7th round by the San Jose Sharks, Pavelski broke out in the 2006 season recording 28 points in his first 46 games as a Shark. After a disappointing sophomore season where he still posted 40 points, Pavelski has seen his points per game rise in the past three seasons, (.74, .76, .89). Some reports are saying the "Pavs" may be relegated to first line duties with superstars Marleau and Thornton so don't be surprised if that number is on the rise again this season.
Loui Eriksson and now departed Brad Richards
Loui Eriksson is quickly becoming a household name is Dallas. After tallying an impressive 71 and 73 points in the past two seasons, he was nominated to play in the All-Star game this past season. He recorded four points, tying Shea Weber with the most points during the game. With the departure of Brad Richards in the offseason, it will be up to Loui Eriksson to try and resurrect this struggling Dallas team. Overall he has near a .70 PPG with 257 points in 371 games, not too shabby for a second rounder.
The only 9th rounder on the list, Halak is most known for shutting down the seemingly unstoppable Washington Capitals in the first round of the playoffs in the 2009-2010 postseason. He posted a .939 save percentage during that round, the highest in Montreal history since Hall of Famer Patrick Roy posted a .940 in 1989.
Since then he was traded to St. Louis who was desperately in need of a solid goaltender. He succeeded in his first season as a Blue recording a .910 save percentage and 27 wins. Expect big things from the Blues with Halak locked in between the pipes.
Recent recipient of a Stanley Cup ring, Horton hits at number 12 on this list because of his impact on the offensively capable Boston Bruins team. Horton scored three game-winning goals in the 2011 postseason including two series-enders against Tampa Bay and Montreal and also recorded a total of 17 points before being knocked out by Aaron Rome in the Stanley Cup final. Overall Horton has recorded 20 or more goals for the past six seasons, making him an extremely dangerous offensive threat.
Bergeron broke out as a superstar in his second and third seasons in the NHL posting 73 and 70 points while enjoying full healthy seasons. However, early on into his fourth season he suffered a grade three concussion at the hands of Philly defenseman Randy Jones. He missed 72 games in 2007-2008 but since then has turned his career around, although not quite posting his groundbreaking stats that he once did. In the 2011 playoffs he proved to be very capable of fulfilling a big role despite his previous injury and posted 20 points in a 23 game run to Lord Stanley.
Carter sporting his new Columbus jersey
Jeff Carter was recently traded from his drafted home of Philadelphia to Columbus in one of the biggest trades of the summer. Carter is No. 10 on this list because of his effectiveness as a powerforward and because of his unique goal scoring ability. He has recorded 181 goals in his 461 NHL games, earning him the honor of participating in the 2009 All-Star game. The same season saw Carter post 84 points in 82 games, earning him a place on the top line of Philly for the next two seasons.
Carter however has been less than impressive in the playoffs, posting only 21 points in 47 postseason outings. Since Carter is virtually indistinguishable in stats from the next Flyer on the list, it only makes sense that these two former first rounders would be traded from Philly in the same month.
Mike Richards was named team captain of the Flyers before the start of the 2008-2009 season, a season that saw him post 80 points in 79 games. Since then Richards has participated in an All-Star game and a has picked up an Olympic gold with Team Canada. He currently holds an NHL record for the most 5-on-3 shorthanded goals with three and is phenomenal on the penalty kill. Recently part of a trade that sent him to the LA Kings, look for No. 9 on this list to improve his career point total of 349 next season.
Zach Parise was just making a name for himself as a superstar with the New Jersey Devils when he tore his meniscus in his right knee last season. Parise posted 94 and 82 points in the past two seasons before that however and is still considered one of the NHL's elite forwards as evidence by his $6 million extension that he earned this postseason. Overall Parise has 341 points in only 420 games and should be expected to help the Devils climb out of the cellar that they found themselves in this season.
Originally drafted by the Calgary Flames, Phaneuf broke out as a rookie in the 2005-2006 season posting 20 goals as a defenseman. He is one of only three defenseman all time to have reached that mark in their rookie season and his name was in the running as rookie of the year alongside Ovechkin and Crosby.
He was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs during the 2009-2010 however because of his decreasing production and defensive lapses. He was named captain of Toronto but his point totals have still been sliding since his record tying performance in 2006. Hopefully next season Phaneuf can once again prove why he deserves to be No. 7 on this list.
Thomas Vanek has lit up the score sheet for Buffalo since 2005-2006 posting both an 84 point season in 2006-2007 and a 73 point stint this past season. He has been voted into the All-Star game once in 2009 as well. With many new additions to the Sabre lineup, the pressure is on Vanek to again post an impressive season in order to lead Buffalo to the ever elusive Stanley Cup. Given the fact that Vanek has recorded 386 points in 469 games, it is a safe bet that Vanek will be among the leaders this year for Buffalo.
Weber has really come into his own as the poster boy for the gritty Nashville Predators. After receiving a new $7.5 million salary this offseason, look for Weber to once again return to his Norris trophy nominating form again this season. By the way, Weber has received votes for the Norris in each of his last three seasons and only lost to Lidstrom this past season 727 to 736.
He has been to the All-Star game twice, boasts the second hardest shot in the league, and has accumulated 214 points in 402 games. The No. 1 defenseman selected in the 2003 draft still has a lot of years ahead of him with whatever team picks him up after his one-year deal is up. For the sake of the Nashville franchise, they better hope he chooses them.
Marc-Andre Fleury has won the starting job in Pittsburgh for the past six seasons including the Stanley cup winning roster in 2008-2009. He won a gold medal for team Canada in 2010 and has been nominated for the NHL All-Star team. "Flower" as he is affectionately called by his teammates has a .908 save percentage over his career.
His best season actually came in the 2010-2011 campaign when he recorded a 2.32 GAA, .918 save percentage, and three shutouts. Fans in Pittsburgh can be excited for years to come with this superstar goaltender and also, of course, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
Corey Perry is starting to prove to the NHL that he is a special player. His accolades have increased with his increasing fame. A Stanley Cup winner in 2007 and a Rocket Richard winner in 2011, Corey Perry has increased his point total every year since he has been in the NHL, culminating in an impressive 98 point season in 2010-2011.
With Ryan Getzlaf (hint: he's on this list too), and Bobby Ryan, Anaheim has one of, if not the deadliest first line in the NHL. Look for him to try and defend his Richard title next season against the likes of Ovechkin and Stamkos. Did I mention he won the Hart trophy as well last season?
Ryan Getzlaf has been a dynamic player for the Anaheim Ducks since his rookie season in 2005-2006. Since then he has acquired numerous accolades and honors including two All-Star game appearances and a Stanley Cup ring in 2007. He has also won a gold medal for team Canada in 2010. Overall Getzlaf has posted a points per game average of higher than 1.00 in four consecutive seasons with the most, 91, coming in 2008-2009. Before the beginning of the 2010-2011 season, he was named captain and should be expected to be captain for more years ahead.
There almost isn't enough room to list all of the good things about Eric Staal in one slide but I'll try anyways. Drafted second overall, Staal proved immediately he deserved to be among the NHL elite. Posting 45 goals and 100 points in his sophomore season Staal helped the Carolina Hurricanes to their first and only Stanley Cup by leading all players in the playoffs in scoring with 28 points.
He has recorded a total of 504 points over 560 games and has played in four All-Star games including the latest one where he captained his own squad. Staal will try next season to lead Carolina back to the playoffs which have eluded them for the past two seasons. Because of his tremendous leadership ability and skill, Staal earns the spot as the No. 1 player drafted from the 2003 entry draft, a draft that will go down as one of the deepest of all time.
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