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Is the 2003 NHL Draft Class One of the Best Ever?

As the 2012 NHL Entry Draft approaches, it’s common to look back on past drafts, especially to try to find the best picks, the diamonds in the rough, the guys drafted in the last few rounds who end up doing a lot better than some early picks–but the 2003 NHL draft class might very well be one of the highest-quality classes to date.

The 2003 NHL Entry Draft was held at Bridgestone Arena (which was called Gaylord Entertainment Center at the time) in Nashville. With the first overall pick, the Pittsburgh Penguins took Marc-Andre Fleury–Stanley Cup winner, Olympic gold winner, Pens’ starting netminder today. The Carolina Hurricanes selected Eric Staal second: today he is the team captain and a member of the exclusive Triple Gold Club. The third pick went to the Florida Panthers and they chose Nathan Horton, who performed well during his time in Sunrise and has continued to do so with the Boston Bruins, winning a Stanley Cup there.

So, each of the first three picks have a Stanley Cup ring at the very least.

Other big names in the first round include Ryan Suter (Nashville Predators, 7th overall), Zach Parise (New Jersey Devils, 17th overall), Ryan Kesler (Vancouver Canucks, 23rd overall) and Corey Perry (Anaheim Ducks, 28th overall).

Also, each and every draftee selected in the first round has played at least one NHL game.

The other rounds, though, are just as full of talent. Take, for example, second-rounders Patrice Bergeron (Bruins, 45th overall), Shea Weber (Predators, 49th overall), David Backes (St. Louis Blues, 62nd overall) and Jimmy Howard (Detroit Red Wings, 64th overall). Weber and Backes are both captains, Bergeron is an alternate and Howard is a very talented netminder. All four are still with the same team that drafted them.

These noteworthy later-round selections make a good case for paying attention to the separate televised showing of the later rounds this year: Jan Hejda (Buffalo Sabres, 106th overall), Drew Miller (Ducks, 186th overall), Joe Pavelski (San Jose Sharks, 205th overall), Kyle Brodziak (Edmonton Oilers, 214th overall), Tobias Enstrom (Atlanta Thrashers, 239th overall), Dustin Byfuglien (Chicago Blackhawks, 245th overall), Matt Moulson (Penguins, 263rd overall), Jaroslav Halak (Montreal Canadiens, 271st overall) and Brian Elliott (Ottawa Senators, 291st overall).

Even Twitter aficionado Paul Bissonnette was drafted in 2003 (Penguins, 121st overall).

But the 2003 draft class has just gotten even better because it’s added a few more Stanley Cup champions: Jeff Carter (Philadelphia Flyers, 11th overall), Dustin Brown (Los Angeles Kings, 13th overall), Mike Richards (Flyers, 24th overall), Colin Fraser (Flyers, 69th overall; Fraser previously won with the Blackhawks) and Brad Richardson (Colorado Avalanche, 163rd overall).

So, is 2003 one of the best years ever for the NHL draft? Based on the evidence alone, I would personally say yes. (1979 was also pretty impressive, boasting draftees like Ray Bourque and Mark Messier.) But who knows–perhaps the 2012 class could grow to be just as impressive.