10 Years Later: Looking Back at the 2003 NHL Draft

By Emma Harger
From first to almost last. Fleury: Charles LeClaire – USA TODAY Sports, Elliott: Jerome Miron – USA TODAY Sports

A little over 10 years ago, the hockey world converged on Nashville, Tenn. for the 2003 NHL Draft. A goaltender was selected first overall for just the third time in league history and the draft proceeded as normal, but as time went on, the beauty and depth of the ’03 draft blossomed fully. Now, as the league gets ready to do it all again, it’s a good time to look back on what has been referred to as the best draft class since the draft became a thing.

The first round of the ’03 draft started with that unusual first selection, a guy named Marc-Andre Fleury. Since his drafting, he’s gone on to win the Stanley Cup, a gold medal at the 2010 Olympics and a Pittsburgh Penguins team MVP award along with an All-Star Game selection in 2011. Second selection Eric Staal captains the Carolina Hurricanes and is a member of the extremely exclusive Triple Gold Club. Third choice Nathan Horton is also a Stanley Cup champion. Has there ever been any other draft class where choices one, two and three each got a chance to raise the Cup within a decade of their drafting?

The rest of the first round is a pretty accomplished one, though. With names like Ryan Suter, Thomas Vanek, Dion Phaneuf, Jeff Carter, Dustin Brown, Brent Seabrook, Zach Parise, Ryan Kesler and Corey Perry among the top 30 choices in 2003, there are many team leaders, award winners and even some more Cup champs there. Every single one of the 30 young men chosen in the first round has touched NHL ice for at least one game, even the guys who aren’t household names: Hugh Jessiman, Shawn Belle, Robert Nilsson and so on. There’s usually one first-rounder who just kind of fades out for whatever reason without ever making it to the big show, but not so in 2003.

But what makes ’03 so great isn’t just how awesome the first round was. In the words of the movie Inception, we need to go deeper. The second round brought guys like Jimmy Howard, Corey Crawford, David Backes, Shea Weber, Loui Eriksson and Patrice Bergeron into the league. Again, this group includes leaders, award winners and Cup champs, but there’s one guy of the group I just named who really goes above and beyond: Bergeron. Gold at the World Championships, gold at the World Juniors (a year after his Worlds gold), gold at the Olympics, Stanley Cup, Triple Gold, Spengler Cup victory during the lockout, Selke Trophy and hopefully more to come.

Let’s keep going deeper, though. The later rounds includes draftees like Colin Fraser, Daniel Carcillo, the Twitter-famous Paul Bissonnette, Drew Miller, Joe Pavelski, Toby Enstrom, Dustin Byfuglien, Matt Moulson and the penultimate pick, proof that great guys can be drafted high or low, Brian Elliott.

The 2003 draft was long, though, at nine rounds and 292 picks. There’s never been one with so many selections since then and 2013 certainly won’t be as super-sized, although it will all happen in just one day. That’s all the more reason to watch the entire thing. As you can see from 10 years ago, you never know–you might just be seeing the crafting of another excellent draft class.

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