The 2003 NHL Draft has been recognized as being one of the greatest drafts in recent history, and quite possibly the greatest of all time. The fact that each of the 30 players who were drafted in the first round has appeared in at least one NHL game and 24 players drafted have played in an All-Star Game is a testament to the talent featured in the draft.
The 2003 draft was notable for its rare abundance of quality talent available - starting goaltenders, creative playmakers, elite scorers, top-notch defencemen - this draft had it all. It should be considered that many future stars ended up getting drafted in later rounds, such as Shea Weber (49th overall by the Nashville Predators) and Dustin Byfuglien (245th by the Chicago Blackhawks).
Among the notable draft day trades was one between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Florida Panthers that sent the first overall pick to Pittsburgh and the third overall pick to Florida. As it turned out, the Pittsburgh Penguins drafted G Marc-Andre Fleury first overall. He was followed by C Eric Staal (Carolina Hurricanes), RW Nathan Horton (Florida Panthers), Nikolay Zherdev (Columbus Blue Jackets), and LW Thomas Vanek (Buffalo Sabres).
With the benefit of hindsight in hand, it is likely that many teams would like a redo of the 2003 draft. Some teams would have selected different players who might have changed their fortunes in the following years. With the knowledge we have 14 years later, we will be conducting a re-draft of the entire first round of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft.
Without further ado, here would be the results if the NHL teams conducted a re-draft of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft:
30 PITTSBURGH PENGUINS - RYAN GETZLAF
Original Pick: Marc-Andre Fleury
The Pittsburgh Penguins originally selected G Marc-Andre Fleury with the first overall pick of the 2003 draft - a move that ended up paying significant dividends for the team. However, if the draft were to be re-done Pittsburgh would have selected C Ryan Getzlaf instead. Getzlaf, originally drafted 19th overall by Anaheim, has turned out to be one the best players in the past decade. Getzlaf has accumulated 814 points across his 12-year NHL career. While it is up for debate whether the Penguins would have won multiple Stanley Cups, adding Getzlaf to a team that also ended up featuring Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin would have been too tantalizing to pass up. It would for sure be a three-headed offensive attack that would give opposing teams nightmares.
29 CAROLINA HURRICANES - SHEA WEBER
Original Pick: Eric Staal
The Carolina Hurricanes originally selected C Eric Staal with this pick. In this re-draft, Carolina instead drafts D Shea Weber, who somehow fell all the way into the second round of the draft. He was eventually selected 49th overall by the Nashville Predators. Weber is a special type of talent who has been able to register at least 40 points in each season since he entered the NHL, save for two which were marked by injury. The 6-time All-Star is also a star off the ice, as he was awarded the Mark Messier Leadership Award in 2016. It is safe to say that Carolina would not pass up the opportunity to draft someone as talented as Weber if they were afforded the opportunity at a re-do.
28 FLORIDA PANTHERS - MARC-ANDRE FLEURY
Original Pick: Nathan Horton
The Florida Panthers traded their first overall pick to Pittsburgh and received the third overall pick in return. With this pick, Florida chose RW Nathan Horton. But in sort of a strange reversal, Florida would choose G Marc-Andre Fleury instead in this re-draft. Fleury happened to be the player selected by Pittsburgh with the pick traded by Florida. Fleury has been one of the top goalies in the NHL in the past decade and the Panthers should jump at the chance to select him in this re-draft. He has a career 2.58 GAA and a .912 save percentage through 691 games. While he had his down points in his career, the bottom line is, he won a Stanley Cup and proved he could be a difference maker.
27 COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS - COREY PERRY
Original Pick: Nikolay Zherdev
The Columbus Blue Jackets drafted RW Nikolay Zherdev 4th overall in 2003, a move the team surely regrets. Though Zherdev had a breakout season during the 2005-06 season, the majority of his NHL career was marked by inconsistencies and a failure to live up to his high draft position. In this re-draft, Columbus fares much better as they would have selected RW Corey Perry instead. Playing the same position, Perry would have provided Columbus with much more consistency and a greater offensive threat than Zherdev. Although Perry required some time to reach his full potential, the multiple years of offensive prowess demonstrated by Perry would have been far more worthwhile.
26 BUFFALO SABRES - PATRICE BERGERON
Original Pick: Thomas Vanek
The Buffalo Sabres originally selected LW Thomas Vanek with their 5th overall pick, who admittedly has turned out to be a pretty good player in his career. However, this re-draft would have the Sabres selecting C Patrice Bergeron instead. The Boston Bruins ended up drafting Bergeron with the 45th pick in the 2nd round! If the Sabres had chosen Bergeron, they would have added another elite scorer and defender to their team. Bergeron has won 4 Frank J. Selke trophies (2012, 2014, 2015, 2017) and even won the Foundational Player Award in 2014. Drafting Bergeron would have done much more to improve the fortunes of Buffalo than Vanek did. Him and Briere could have formed a deadly one-two punch down the middle.
25 SAN JOSE SHARKS - RYAN SUTER
Original Pick: Milan Michaelek
With the 6th overall pick, the San Jose Sharks drafted LW Milan Michalek out of the Czech Republic. In a re-draft the Sharks would instead select D Ryan Suter, stealing him away from the Predators who drafted him 7th overall in 2003. Suter then formed a great pairing with fellow '03 draft pick Shea Weber for several years. Suter has proven himself to be a consistent and reliable defender throughout his career with the Nashville Predators and Minnesota Wild. If the Sharks were to have drafted Suter with this pick, they would have been a much better team in 2005-2006 and later seasons. The team would eventually trade for Joe Thornton during the 2005-2006 season, and having Suter on that line would have solidified the team much more.
24 NASHVILLE PREDATORS - ERIC STAAL
Original Pick: Ryan Suter
As we already discussed, the Nashville Predators drafted D Ryan Suter, who turned out to be a great pick for them. It could be argued that the Predators would actually have drafted him here again, but he would have already been off the board by now. Instead, the Predators would have selected C Eric Staal who was taken 2nd overall by Carolina. The Predators ended up having some good seasons during the late-2000s, but adding Staal would have improved their odds of winning the Stanley Cup. Staal, of course, ended up posting 7 consecutive seasons of 70+ points and appeared in 4 All-Star Games during that same period. Staal has declined somewhat in recent years but there is little doubt the Predators would have loved to have the durable Staal on their team during those years of greatness.
23 ATLANTA THRASHERS - RYAN KESLER
Original Pick: Braydon Coburn
With the 8th overall pick in 2003, the Atlanta Thrashers drafted D Braydon Coburn. In a draft that ended up featuring so many great players, this was a big miss by Atlanta. Even though Coburn is still playing in the NHL, he has been nowhere near the player the Thrashers surely thought they were getting when they drafted him this high. In a re-draft the Thrashers would instead go with C Ryan Kesler (originally drafted 23rd overall by Vancouver). Even though it took Kesler a few years to reach success at the NHL level, once he did he was as good as any of the other defenders. When he is healthy, he is capable of scoring at least 20 goals and finishing with at least 50 points/season. He established himself as a solid two-way center and has made a reputation for being very solid during penalty kills.
22 CALGARY FLAMES - JEFF CARTER
Original Pick: Dion Phaneuf
In 2003, the Calgary Flames took the hometown boy, D Dion Phaneuf, 9th overall. While taking a local player was understandable and was likely a marketing dream, Phaneuf battled injuries and has been frequently described as "over-rated" and lacking defensive commitment. In his place, the Flames would have instead drafted C Jeff Carter - another Canadian. Carter proved himself to a credible offensive threat after having posted four straight seasons of 50+ points with the Philadelphia Flyers.
Carter is now playing for the Los Angeles Kings and continues to put up elite number. So far in his career, Carter has 650 points in the regular-season and 74 playoff points in 116 playoff games. He's still going on strong today even in midst of L.A's disappointing seasons recently.
21 MONTREAL CANADIENS - ZACH PARISE
Original Pick: Andrei Kostitsyn
With their 10th overall pick, the Montreal Canadiens selected RW Andrei Kostitsyn. They actually also ended up getting his brother, Sergei Kostitsyn, a few years later. Andrei had a breakout season in 2007-08 but only ended up playing in the NHL for a few years due to a combination of injuries, declining performance, and suspensions for selfish behaviour. The Canadiens would have been much better off in the re-draft, since they would have selected LW Zach Parise instead. Parise only got drafted 17th overall by the New Jersey Devils. Parise continues to produce at a respectable rate, now as a member of the Minnesota Wild. We will never know if having Parise instead of Kostitysyn would have led to more Stanley Cups in the late-2000s/early-2010s for the Canadiens.
20 PHILADELPHIA FLYERS - DUSTIN BYFUGLIEN
Original Pick: Jeff Carter
Jeff Carter was the player that was drafted by the Philadelphia Flyers with their 11th overall pick. This was yet another prospect who ended up becoming a star in the NHL and, for that reason, was a very good draft choice by the Flyers. Unfortunately, that also means Carter does not make it to the Flyers in a re-draft. In his place, the Flyers draft D Dustin Byfuglien, who somehow had to wait until the 8th round (245th overall) to get drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks. There is no chance of someone as good as Byfuglien falling that low in this re-draft. Byfuglien is a genuine talent who, although be primarily a defenseman, is capable of being a forward too. Byfuglien can be reliably counted on for 20+ goals a season, and has been on multiple All-Star teams.
19 NEW YORK RANGERS - BRENT BURNS
Original Pick: Hugh Jessiman
The New York Rangers selected RW Hugh Jessiman 12th overall. Jessiman is probably a name that won't be recognized by many, which makes sense because he only appeared in 2 NHL games. In a draft pool as deep as this one, the Rangers' drafting of Jessiman can only be characterized as a brutal failure. The Rangers would likely be much happier if they had Brent Burns as their right-winger instead. Would they have ever put him on the blue line like San Jose did? Who knows, but he would have been a contributor no matter where New York decided to play him.
Burns has also seemingly turned his career on in recent years, as he has continued to post career highs in points during each of the past three seasons. Perhaps Burns is a late bloomer.
18 LOS ANGELES KINGS - JOE PAVELSKI
Original Pick: Dustin Brown
With the 13th overall pick in the 2003 draft, the Los Angeles Kings selected RW Dustin Brown. Although Brown would still be available to the Kings in the re-draft, they would instead opt to draft C/RW Joe Pavelski. It took Pavelski a couple of years to establish himself in the NHL, but he never looked back once he did. Pavelski has only played for the San Jose Sharks in his career, and can always be counted on for 50 or more points in a season. Pavelski has accumulated 631 points across 806 NHL games thus far.
Although Brown has turned into a solid leader, captain, and player, the Kings would be better off with Pavelski on their team, especially when you see Brown today.
17 CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS - DUSTIN BROWN
Original Pick: Brent Seabrook
Speaking of him, Dustin Brown ends up falling one draft spot lower in this re-draft where he goes to the Chicago Blackhawks, 14th overall. The Blackhawks originally used this pick on Canadian defenseman Brent Seabrook. Although Seabrook is still with Chicago and has posted some solid seasons, Brown would likely have been an even better fit. Adding Brown to their wing would have provided Chicago with a much needed physical presence and given Chicago another solid captain-type player. Furthermore, Brown has managed to establish himself as a scoring threat and an effective two-way player. Brown may be a liability to the Kings today due to his horrible contract, but you have to remember how effective Brown was during the Kings' two Stanley Cups.
16 NEW YORK ISLANDERS - MIKE RICHARDS
Original Pick: Robert Nilsson
The New York Islanders used their 15th overall pick in 2003 to draft RW Robert Nilsson. Unfortunately for the Islanders, Nilsson was a flop and barely played in the NHL (although he is doing better playing in Switzerland). The Islanders would be able to redeem themselves in the re-draft by taking C Mike Richards, who fell to the Philadelphia Flyers 24th overall in 2003. Richards encountered some legal difficulties in recent years - he was stopped at the Canada/US border and arrested for possession of oxycodone - but he was a solid player in the years before that. Richards proved himself to be a reliable goal scorer and contributor on the ice. Despite his difficulties off the ice, the couple years of solid production on the ice would make Richards a worthwhile pick for the Islanders here.
15 SAN JOSE SHARKS - COREY CRAWFORD
Original Pick: Steve Bernier
With the 16th pick in the draft, the San Jose Sharks chose RW Steve Bernier, probably with the objective of pairing with fellow 2003 draftee LW Milan Michalek (6th overall). The Sharks would go a different route in the re-draft. Goalie Corey Crawford would instead be the Sharks' choice here. He would provide stability in the net for the Sharks, and would have provided an upgrade for them as well.
Using their two first round picks on Suter and Crawford would very likely have resulted in more playoff success for the Sharks than having drafted Bernier and Michalek. Crawford may not be seen as a franchise goaltender to some, but he's kept proving doubters wrong year after year in Chicago.
14 NEW JERSEY DEVILS - BRENT SEABROOK
Original Pick: Zach Parise
Zach Parise was actually a very nice draft choice for the New Jersey Devils at 17th overall. He would not end up lasting until the Devils this time around, as he was drafted 10th overall by Montreal in our re-draft. This would force New Jersey to turn their attention to someone else, namely D Brent Seabrook. Adding someone like Seabrook would have improved the Devils' defense in the late-2000s, and possibly even improved their fortunes. The New Jersey fans probably would have appreciated someone like Seabrook and seeing him as a defender in front of future Hall-of-Fame goalie Martin Brodeur. With the way the Devils were built, Seabrook would have fit right in with Jersey.
13 WASHINGTON CAPITALS - JIMMY HOWARD
Original Pick: Eric Fehr
The Washington Capitals selected RW Eric Fehr 18th overall in 2003, which is a miss considering the rare amount of talent that was available to them. This time around, the Capitals would choose G Jimmy Howard, who was originally drafted in the 2nd round (64th overall) by the Detroit Red Wings. Howard would have been a much more desirable pick than the injury-stricken Fehr because of Howard's natural ability in the net. Howard would have been a marked improvement over most of the goalies Washington had in the late-2000s. Mind you, the Caps eventually landed Braden Holtby, so nowadays if Howard were still in Washington, he'd have likely been backing up Holtby by this point, or would have been traded for other roster pieces.
12 ANAHEIM DUCKS - JAROSLAV HALAK
Original Pick: Ryan Getzlaf
The Anaheim Ducks brilliantly drafted C Ryan Getzlaf 19th overall in 2003, but there was almost no chance of Getzlaf lasting this long in the re-draft. For this reason, Anaheim will have to look elsewhere in this re-draft. Anaheim would choose G Jaroslav Halak with their 19th pick here. Halak has always been a solid goaltender and, as with most teams during the mid-2000s, would represent a sizeable upgrade in the net. Halak won the William M. Jennings Trophy during the 2011-12 season for having the lowest G.A.A.. Halak also currently sports a .917 save percentage in the NHL so far. He's of course best remembered for his epic 2010 playoff performance of helping the Habs upset Washington and Pittsburgh in back-to-back rounds. That's the kind of heroic goaltending Anaheim was missing in recent years.
11 MINNESOTA WILD - DION PHANEUF
Original Pick: Brent Burns
With their 20th overall pick in the 2003 draft, the Minnesota Wild chose to draft RW Brent Burns. As we already found out, Burns likely would have already been taken by the time Minnesota got a chance to draft. Because of this, the Wild would turn their focus to defenseman Dion Phaneuf. Although he has had his fair share of critics (especially during his tenure with the Toronto Maple Leafs), Phaneuf has generally been a solid player. Phaneuf brings a calm but professional demeanour to the ice and is usually good for around 30 points per season. Although the Wild would probably like to have had a player like Phaneuf on their roster, it is highly doubtful they are fans of the contract he is presently signed to.
10 BOSTON BRUINS - NATHAN HORTON
Original Pick: Mark Stuart
Being drafted 21st overall in this re-draft is quite a fall in position from when he was drafted 3rd overall by Florida in 2003. That is a sign of just how deep this draft class really was. That being said, the Boston Bruins would certainly have improved their team by drafting Horton instead of Mark Stuart, whom they drafted with the pick in 2003. In all fairness, Stuart has been a good enough player, but Horton has been a far better player. Horton actually played for a few years with Boston between 2010 and 2013, where he had some of his best statistical years. Boston would have been able to capitalize on the talent of Horton if they had drafted him seven years earlier. It is unfortunate that Horton's career appears to be over because of a degenerative back injury, but it does not change the fact that Boston would have enjoyed almost a decade of Horton's natural abilities.
9 EDMONTON OILERS - DAVID BACKES
Original Pick: Marc-Antoine Pouliot
In 2003, the Edmonton Oilers used the 22nd overall pick on C Marc-Antoine Pouliot. This represented yet another miss as Pouliot bounced back and forth between the AHL and NHL. Although he posted some good seasons in the AHL, Pouliot was never really able to translate that success at the NHL level. Selecting RW David Backes, originally drafted 62nd by St. Louis, would have been more beneficial for the Oilers. Backes is still playing for St. Louis and has continued to put up respectable numbers. Since the 2008-2009 season, Backes has posted 30+ points seasons (except for one season). That level of contribution would certainly look good on recent Oilers teams, where the younger players would also be able to learn from someone like Backes.
8 VANCOUVER CANUCKS - LOUI ERIKSSON
Original Pick: Ryan Kesler
The Vancouver Canucks, with the 23rd overall pick, drafted C Ryan Kesler who turned out to be a great player for the Canucks. He had some really productive seasons with the Canucks before being traded to the Anaheim Ducks in 2014. However, the Canucks would not be able to land Kesler again in the re-draft. Instead, the team would choose LW Loui Eriksson with the 23rd pick. Eriksson took a few years to reach sustained success, but after his breakout 2008-2009 season, he has usually put up some very solid numbers. The Canucks actually signed Eriksson as a free agent in July 2016, and posted 24 points in 65 games. While that was disappointing, getting Eriksson in his prime years definitely wouldn't have backfired on them.
7 PHILADELPHIA FLYERS - MILAN MICHALEK
Original Pick: Mike Richards
With the 24th pick, the Philadelphia Flyers drafted C Mike Richards. He is another example of a talented player who slid down the draft rankings to Philadelphia because of how much talent was available and because of some mistakes made by other teams. This would not be the case in this re-draft, as Richards would almost certainly be off the board by now. In his place, the Flyers would draft LW Milan Michalek. Although not the player that Richards turned out to be, Michalek was able to put up some pretty good years while with the Ottawa Senators. The past few years, as a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs, have not been as good to Michalek as he has struggled to produce in severely limited playing time.
6 FLORIDA PANTHERS - TOBIAS ENSTROM
Original Pick: Anthony Stewart
We're now getting to the late stages of the first round and we still haven't bottomed out in terms of quality NHL players. Just shows how great this class was.
The Florida Panthers originally drafted RW Anthony Stewart with the 25th overall pick in the 2003 draft. However, this re-draft would see the Panthers select Tobias Enstrom instead. Although Enstrom was drafted in 2003, he did not play in the NHL until the 2007-08 season. For the next few seasons following that, however, he was seen as one of the key scoring contributors on the Thrashers teams. Although he is a perfectly solid player, he has never been anything spectaculor.
5 LOS ANGELES KINGS - THOMAS VANEK
Original Pick: Brian Boyle
With this pick, the Los Angeles Kings drafted C Brian Boyle. He has been a good, but not great, player throughout his career and was a reasonable choice for the Kings. In this re-draft, the Kings would instead use their 26th overall pick to draft LW Thomas Vanek. Originally drafted 5th overall in 2003 by Buffalo, Vanek has turned out be a very solid player. He had some amazing seasons in the early 2000s, most of which saw him finish seasons with 50 or more points, but his career has slowly declined in recent years. Vanek is still a threat - he did finish the 2014-2015 season with 52 points after all. The Kings would probably be satisfied with the multiple strong seasons they would have had with Vanek as their left-winger.
4 LOS ANGELES KINGS - CLARKE MACARTHUR
Original Pick: Jeff Tambellini
The Los Angeles Kings actually had consecutive picks in the 2003 draft! The 27th pick, acquired via trade with the Detroit Red Wings, saw them take LW Jeff Tambellini. Unfortunately for the Kings and Tambellini, he was another one of those prospects who was never able to translate his success to the NHL level. In the re-draft, the Kings would follow up with the Vanek draft pick by taking another LW - Clarke MacArthur. Although it might defy conventional wisdom to draft another left-winger after having already just drafted one, this would be a case of taking the best player available. Moreover, it would further solidify the Kings' wing and provide another scoring threat. Like Vanek, it took MacArthur a few years to become acclimated to the NHL. Once MacArthur did, he posted a couple of perfectly solid seasons.
3 ANAHEIM DUCKS - MATT MOULSON
Original Pick: Corey Perry
The Anaheim Ducks originally drafted RW Corey Perry with the 28th overall pick in the 2003 draft. In this re-draft, Perry would already be off the board by now. The Ducks would instead choose to draft Matt Moulson. In 2003, this might have been seen as a risky selection but Moulson has had some good seasons in the NHL. Between the 2009-10 and 2012-13 seasons, Moulson posted seasons with 40+ points. Although he might not be a household name like some of the other players mentioned earlier in this list, Moulson represents a sound draft choice here. Getting a player like Moulson late in the first round is never a bad haul in any hockey draft.
2 OTTAWA SENATORS - BRIAN ELLIOTT
Original Pick: Patrick Eaves
Patrick Eaves was originally the player who was drafted by the Ottawa Senators with the 29th overall pick in the 2003 draft. He had a few good seasons with Ottawa and, even though he would still be available in the re-draft, Ottawa would go down a different path this time around. That different path would likely lead them to Canadian goaltender Brian Elliott, who Ottawa actually drafted in the 9th round (291st overall) that year.
Knowing how solid Elliott is, Ottawa would not want to risk another team drafting him. Elliott is a 2-time All-Star and currently has a 2.42 GAA and a .913 save percentage across 372 games. Elliott has never been a franchise goalie, but he definitely an NHL caliber goalie.
1 ST. LOUIS BLUES - LEE STEMPNIAK
Original Pick: Shawn Belle
With the final pick of the first round of the re-draft, the St. Louis Blues would select RW Lee Stempniak! Stempniak is not a spectacular player by any stretch of the imagination, but he has generally been able to produce some results on the ice. Stempniak, similar to Brian Elliott, would be chosen by the same team in the re-draft as the team that originally drafted him in 2003. The difference being that the Blues would not take any chances and would select Stempniak with the 30th overall pick, rather than taking him 148th overall (5th round). Stempniak has bounced around the NHL a fair bit, but has managed to put up some respectable numbers. He is currently a member of the Carolina Hurricanes - his 10th NHL team.
That is how we thought the first round of a re-draft of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft would look like. Do you disagree with our rankings? Are there any notable omissions? Let us know what you think.