As NHL draft nears, one of the best ever happened here

Thursday, June 25, 2009 at 12:00am

When the 2009 NHL draft ends Saturday evening in Montreal, more than likely all 30 teams will be happy to some extent.

That’s because at that point none of the ‘can’t-miss’ prospects will have missed — all of those perceived as ‘diamonds in the rough’ will have a certain shine to them and every selection will have fit in with the overall plans of the franchise which selected them.

Even if those beliefs turn out to be true for the vast majority of those players, though, it still will be difficult for this year’s prospects to measure up to the collective strength and accomplishments of those selected in 2003, when the draft was held in Nashville.

Before the first pick was announced at the Sommet Center, experts and analysts at the time viewed the 2003 draft as one of the deepest in recent memory. In the six years since, it has taken on the look of one of the best in decades.

The first two selections (Pittsburgh’s Marc-Andre Fleury and Carolina’s Eric Staal, respectively) already have led their teams to Stanley Cup championships. Of the 30 first-round selections, all but one have played at least briefly in the NHL and even beyond the first round, teams found quality — in some cases high-quality — players.

“We did great, but so did everybody else as it turned out,” Nashville Predators’ General Manager David Poile said. “These drafts tend to go in cycles, but that one really turned out to be unique in terms of the overall quality and depth.”

A recent article rated the 2003 draft the NHL’s third-best ever behind 1979 and 1988. Most debates on the subject include those three, which suggests it will be another five years or so before another draft like the Nashville one takes place.

Virtually every pick of the first round has panned out, and every other round had at least one pick who has met or exceeded the expectations that came with their respective draft positions.


Pittsburgh and Carolina got the foundation pieces they sought at the top of the draft, but so did some others — even some outside of the top 10, where such players rarely are found.

Arguably no team did better in this round than the Philadelphia Flyers, who got a pair of centers, Jeff Carter (11th overall) and Mike Richards (24th overall). Between them, they’ve scored 131 goals the last two seasons. Both were among the top 12 in votes for All-Star centers in 2008-09.

The New Jersey Devils, likewise, got a gem when they selected Zach Parise 17th overall. The Predators actually attempted to trade up to get Parise, but the Devils held their ground and got a player who had 45 goals and 94 points this past season.

Calgary got a two-way defenseman in Dion Phaneuf ninth overall, and Vancouver got one of the game’s top young multi-faceted forwards in Ryan Kesler at No. 23.


Nashville followed its first-round selection of defenseman Ryan Suter with the addition of two more, Kevin Klein and Shea Weber, in the second.

All three have developed into full-time NHL players led by Weber, who finished second in the hardest shot competition at the All-Star weekend and then finished fifth among all defensemen in postseason All-Star voting.

In contrast, Boston went with a defenseman in the first round (Mark Stuart, 21st) but then went for offense in the second round with center Patrice Bergeron. In 2005-06, Bergeron scored 31 goals and three times he has topped 30 assists.

One of the final second-round choices was St. Louis center David Backes, who became a 30-goal scorer this past season.


Pittsburgh selected Daniel Carcillo 73rd overall. Carcillo quickly has moved up among the ranks of the league’s toughest guys, albeit with Phoenix and Philadelphia rather than the team that selected him.

Carcillo’s multi-faceted game was most apparent in 2007-08 when he had 13 goals and 324 penalty minutes in 57 games for the Coyotes.

One might argue that the crowd at the then-Gaylord Entertainment Center on lower Broadway was there more for a party then an NHL draft — many Predators fans still learning the nuances of hockey. But they cheered heartily when Suter’s name was called.

Nonetheless, those in attendance got a glimpse of one of the most talent-laden first rounds in NHL history.

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