Every sport has its great draft classes that have a deep amount of talent and multiple potential Hall of Famers that span over all of the rounds. The NFL had the class of 1983, while the NBA has had great ones such as 1984, 1996 and 2004. It’s hard to pick just one draft class in NHL history that stands out as the best, but the deepest one in recent memory has to be the famed 2003 class.
One thing that analysts like to do is look back at the draft and see how teams would have made their selections if they were given a second chance. Often times, people like to do that too early, not letting the players' careers play out. This draft class though , can really be revised, as all the players are established and we know which teams are still struggling 12 years later. It’s tough for the 2003 NHL Draft Class, because there would have been great names all the way from the top to the bottom in the first round.
To give you an idea of how good the first 20 picks were, here are some of the names that didn’t make it in our re-draft: Nathan Horton, Thomas Vanek, Loui Eriksson, Brian Elliott and Tobias Enstrom. That’s really saying something. So how would GMs change their course of action if they could travel back to 2003? Here are what the first 20 picks of that year’s draft might look like in hindsight.
20 Pittsburgh Penguins - Ryan Getzlaf
With the first pick of the draft (that was acquired from the Florida Panthers), the Penguins took goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. Getzlaf was not selected until the 19th overall pick by the Anaheim Ducks. Getzlaf has been a staple in the NHL for the past decade, racking up 678 career points and strong runs in the playoffs, winning a Stanley Cup in his rookie season when they defeated the Buffalo Sabres four games to one. While Marc-Andre Fleury had a career surge in the late 2000s, he is still somewhat of an enigma as a goaltender, while Getzlaf is easily a top-5 centre in the NHL.
19 Carolina Hurricanes - Eric Staal
Eric Staal stays in the same position that he was originally drafted, second overall by the Carolina Hurricanes. Staal is still with the Hurricanes to this day, netting 312 goals and adding 430 more assists for the team. The Canes may have only made two playoff appearances in the Staal era, but they won the Stanley Cup in just his second season when he scored 28 points in the playoff run. While some other names look tempting on this list, it's hard to go against Staal again.
18 Florida Panthers - Shea Weber
In this position, the Panthers moved back to number three from number one to select Nathan Horton. Shea Weber was severely underrated by scouts in the draft as he wasn’t taken until the 49th overall selection by the Nashville Predators with a compensatory pick. Weber has stuck with the Predators through his entire career as one of the most notable defensemen in the league. Weber has 392 career points, two Olympic gold medals and four All-Star Game appearances. Nathan Horton was traded by the Panthers in 2010 and his career may now be over. They only just found the no.1 defenceman they'd been missing for a long time when they drafted this year's Calder Trophy winner Aaron Ekblad first overall in 2014.
17 Columbus Blue Jackets - Marc-Andre Fleury
The Blue Jackets whiffed pretty badly with the fourth overall pick, selecting Nikolai Zherdev from Russia. In a draft class like this one, whiffing is pretty hard to do. In this alternate universe, the Blue Jackets get Marc-Andre Fleury, who in reality went first overall to the Penguins. Fleury had a solid year in 2015, making his second All-Star team, and has won a Stanley Cup with the Penguins back in 2009 even though he has had his ups and downs. While the Jackets have Sergei Bobrovsky in nets now, there were many years before his arrival where Columbus was constantly searching for answers in goal. Drafting Fleury solves that problem a lot sooner.
16 Buffalo Sabres - Corey Perry
The Sabres didn’t exactly get some no-name with the fifth overall pick, taking Thomas Vanek from the University of Minnesota. Perry was a steal late in the first round (28th overall) by the Ducks, so the Sabres would have had to take him much earlier. Perry has 602 points in his NHL career, capped by an amazing 50 goal season in 2010-11 when he won the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy. Vanek has been a terrific player in his career, but Perry has more of a mean streak and if you were to ask anybody around the league who they'd want between Perry and Vanek, the answer would unanimously be Perry.
15 San Jose Sharks - Zach Parise
The Sharks didn’t strike out entirely with their pick of Milan Michalek with the sixth overall selection, but they could have gotten Zach Parise in this spot. Parise didn’t get selected until the 17th spot by the Devils in the Draft. Parise is now a member of the Wild, but is still producing at a high rate. Parise has scored 566 points in his career despite only playing more than 70 games twice in the past six seasons. Who knows if Parise could have been a missing piece in the Sharks' unsuccessful playoff runs?
14 Nashville Predators - Brent Seabrook
The Predators wouldn’t have been able to get Shea Weber again in our re-draft, and they ended up with defenceman Ryan Suter with the seventh pick in the actual draft. In this mock-up, they likely would have selected Brent Seabrook, who went 14th overall to the Chicago Blackhawks. Seabrook is a master passing defenceman who has helped the Blackhawks win three Stanley Cups and is incredibly durable. He's also scored some big playoff goals throughout his career, including a Game 7 overtime winner against Detroit in 2013 and a triple overtime winner this year against Nashville.
13 Atlanta Thrashers - Corey Crawford
The Atlanta Thrashers only got two unproductive seasons with their first round pick, defenseman Braydon Coburn. Coburn is now a member of the Lightning, but the Thrashers (who are now the Winnipeg Jets) could have gotten goalie Corey Crawford, who didn’t go until the 52nd pick overall to the Blackhawks. Crawford is fresh off of his second Stanley Cup win, and has been a stud in the playoffs in his career. Maybe Crawford could have saved hockey in Atlanta... nah, probably not.
12 Calgary Flames - Dustin Byfuglien
Dion Phaneuf is no pushover, and that’s who the Flames selected with the ninth overall pick in the draft. Phaneuf is now a member of the Maple Leafs, but it’s likely that the team would have preferred the two-way defensive playing of Dustin Byfuglien, who strangely didn’t get selected until the 245th overall pick by the Blackhawks. Byfuglien is a high scoring defenceman with 344 career points, and a three time All-Star selection, being named to his most recent team in 2015.
11 Montreal Canadiens - Patrice Bergeron
Montreal took Andrei Kostitsyn in the 10th overall spot, and a couple of years later, selected his brother Sergei late in the draft. If they had to do it all over again, Patrice Bergeron would have been sitting there ripe for the picking. Rather than letting him slip to their hated rival Boston, the Habs could've picked up a star from their own province. The Bruins didn’t select Bergeron until the second round with the 45th pick. Bergeron has been a true Bruin, scoring 550 career points, winning a Stanley Cup in the process. He has also won the last two Selke trophies, and three of the last four, as the league's best defensive forward.
10 Philadelphia Flyers - Ryan Suter
The Flyers selected Jeff Carter with the 11th overall pick, and they might actually do it again if given the chance. As an alternate, Ryan Suter was still available in the re-draft, even though he went seventh overall to the Predators in 2003. Suter has been a durable defenceman for both the Predators and Wild, being named to two All-Star teams in 2012 and 2013. The Flyers have had trouble on the blue line since Chris Pronger's concussion forced him to retire. Having Suter on their blue line probably would have offset the loss of Pronger.
9 New York Rangers - Dion Phaneuf
Dion Phaneuf ended up going ninth overall to Calgary in the 2003 Draft, but the Rangers would have been more than happy to pick him up after falling in the re-draft instead of Hugh Jessiman, who only played two games in his NHL career. Phaneuf scored his 400th career point as a defenceman this season with the Maple Leafs, and he has been named to three All-Star Games along the way. The Rangers just probably wouldn't want to pay him what the Leafs are now paying.
8 Los Angeles Kings - Dustin Brown
The Kings selected Dustin Brown with the 13th overall pick, and they probably wouldn’t change that around after the success that they have had with him. Brown isn’t the highest scoring forward on the list, but he has been very productive, and a big part of the Kings winning two Stanley Cups recently. Brown has 442 career points with the Kings and is a one time All-Star. While the Kings may not love Brown's current contract, there's nothing they would change about what's transpired in the last few years.
7 Chicago Blackhawks - Jimmy Howard
Chicago has had a lot of players already taken off the board in the re-draft, so they don’t have access to players that have helped them win a cup, (or three) such as Seabrook, Byfuglien and Crawford. Instead, the Blackhawks settle for current Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard, who was selected in the 64th overall position. Howard has a 176-99 career record with two All-Star appearances but hasn’t gotten his name on the Stanley Cup just yet.
6 New York Islanders - Mike Richards
The New York teams really struck out in the first round of this deep draft, as the Islanders picked up Robert Nilsson, who only played for one season with the team. The Isles would have been much happier with Mike Richards, who went 24th overall to the Flyers. His career has slowed down as of late, but Richards gave the Flyers more than half a decade of valuable service and a couple more in Los Angeles that New York could have used. This was the story for many of the Islanders' drafts in the early 2000s.
5 San Jose Sharks - Joe Pavelski
One of the very few teams in this re-draft to get one of their own players back, the Sharks snag Joe Pavelski with the 16th pick. However, they did not take Pavelski in this slot in the actual draft, selecting Steve Bernier, who played just three seasons with the Sharks. Pavelski has been a good scorer with the Sharks, collecting 485 points and a one-time All-Star. He is signed with San Jose through the 2018 season.
4 New Jersey Devils - David Backes
The Devils were fortunate in this spot in the real draft when they took Zach Parise out from the University of North Dakota. They would have welcomed him in again for sure, but he’s off the board, so the Devils have to settle for David Backes, the 62nd overall selection by the Blues who have really appreciated his services. Backes has scored 415 career points, and has made one All-Star appearance.
3 Washington Capitals - Ryan Kesler
The nation’s capital is still seeking its first Stanley Cup after 40 seasons of hockey despite having one of the greatest players in Alex Ovechkin. The Caps took Eric Fehr with the 18th pick, who is still with the team, but Ryan Kesler would have been a more desirable pick. Kesler was drafted 23rd overall by the Canucks. Kesler was a solid choice for Vancouver, scoring 440 points in his career, reaching one All-Star Game and winning the 2011 Frank J. Selke Trophy for his defensive play. Unfortunately for Vancouver, he's now playing for the next team on our list.
2 Anaheim Ducks - Jeff Carter
The Flyers passed up on drafting Jeff Carter for a second time in the re-draft, and Ryan Getzlaf was the first one off the board, so the Ducks can’t get him again. They get a nice consolation prize though, as Carter finds himself on the Ducks. Carter is a definite playmaker, scoring 522 points so far in the NHL, and added a gold medal last year while playing for Canada in the Olympics. Carter is also a two time Stanley Cup champion with the Kings and a one-time All-Star.
1 Minnesota Wild - Jaroslav Halak
Minnesota got some solid production out of Brent Burns, who was their 20th selection in the draft. The Wild did not have a strong goalie rotation at the time, so they would have preferred to have Jaroslav Halak, as Niklas Backstrom would not be signed by the team until 2006. So far in his career, Halak has posted a goalie record of 182-102 with an average goals allowed of 2.39 per game. Halak was named to the 2015 All-Star Game, and won the William M. Jennings Trophy for the lowest GAA during the 2011-12 season.