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The Draft: Top 3 Picks Since 2003

The Draft: Top 3 Picks Since 2003

Predicting what will happen on Draft day is about as easy as picking where lightning will strike.  Even more foggy is how those picks will pan out.  We all know about busts like Alexandre Daigle and Patrik Stefan, but I’m going to take a look at the top 3 picks from each NHL Entry Draft since 2003.

Why 2003?  Well, we all know that 2003 is widely considered the strongest draft class in NHL history.  All but one first round pick has played in the NHL and many of them have been quite successful.

2003: 1. Marc-Andre Fleury (PIT), 2. Eric Staal (CAR), 3. Nathan Horton (FLA)

It was probably debatable who was better to take 1st overall between Fleury and Staal, but it worked out well for both clubs.  The Hurricanes already had their future franchise keeper in Cam Ward, and the Pens were soon to pick up both Crosby and Malkin (and another Staal).  Both teams have since raised Lord Stanley.

Florida, on the other hand, might take a redo on their pick.  Don’t get me wrong, Horton is a very good player who still has upside.  However, look at some of the names picked in the first round after Horton; Thomas Vanek, Dion Phaneuf, Jeff Carter, Dustin Brown, Zach Parise, Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler, Mike Richards, and Corey Perry.  Who would you take if you could do it over?

2004: 1. Alex Ovechkin (WAS), 2. Evgeni Malkin (PIT), 3. Cam Barker (CHI)

No need to waste a lot of time listing Ovechkin and Malkin’s credentials.  It’s the third pick that yet again is questionable.  I’m sure at the time, the scouting would show Barker to be a top flight prospect.  While he is a good player, can you argue his talents over Alexander Radulov, Travis Zajac, Wojtek Wolski, or Mike Green?

2005: 1. Sidney Crosby (PIT), 2. Bobby Ryan (ANA), 3. Jack Johnson (CAR)

Again, the top pick is academic.  Recently, Bobby Ryan has silenced the critics who questioned the Ducks for taking him second overall.  He’s put together 2 strong seasons and gives Anaheim another elite offensive weapon.

The Jack Johnson pick is a little grey.  First, Carolina traded him after a dispute over the direction of his career.  Since then, he has been a bit of an enigma for the Kings.  Although the tail end of the 09-10 season would show that Johnson can handle a top-pair role in the NHL, his efforts up until then were shaky at best.

However, who could argue with Carolina for taking him third overall after the young career he had up until the draft?

2006: 1. Erik Johnson (STL), 2. Jordan Staal (PIT), 3. Jonathan Toews (CHI)

Starting to see how you build a Stanley Cup winner?  That’s right, have a top 2 pick for 4 straight seasons.  Aside from that, this year was interesting.  Johnson, Staal, and Toews were a little bit closer in their rankings and it was probably a bit harder to choose which to take.  Johnson had the bearing of a franchise defenseman, Staal had great skill and the “Staal” pedigree, and Toews was a flashy center as well.

It appears St. Louis made the right decision as they possess a great group of young forwards, and without Johnson they might look a little thin on the blue line.  If the Penguins had taken Toews over Staal they might have had the problem (I use that word loosely) of three #1 centers.  Staal has the offensive skill, but also the defensive acumen.  Would he have blossomed into a #1 center if he had that room to grow?  Given their current position, you know Chicago isn’t second guessing themselves.

Then again, who was the #4 pick?  100 point center Nicklas Backstom.  Just some other names from the 1st round; Phil Kessel, Derrick Brassard, Kyle Okposo, Peter Mueller, Michael Frolik, Bryan Little, Jonathan Bernier, Chris Stewart, Claude Giroux, Semyon Varlamov, and Nick Foligno.  Potential rival to 2003′s draft class?

2007: 1. Patrick Kane (CHI), 2. James Van Riemsdyk (PHI), 3. Kyle Turris (PHO)

Perhaps the closest 1-2-3 of all time, these guys were all potential 1st overall picks come draft day.  I read reports from scouting agencies that each had a different guy going 1st overall.  The NHL’s own Central Scouting Bureau had Turris at No. 1, Kane at No. 2, and JVR at No. 3.

Although Turris is still quite young and has boatloads of upside, both Chicago and Philadelpia are cashing in on the decision to pass on Turris.  Both Kane and Van Riemsdyk are playing for the Stanley Cup, while Turris spent the season in the AHL.

Turris is certainly not considered a draft bust (yet), but what did Chicago and Philly see in Turris that made them pass?  When their skills match up so closely, it had to be something that made them go with Kane and Van Riemsdyk, respectively.  To venture outside that top-3, Russian prospect Alexei Cherepanov, who later tragically passed away during a KHL game, was ranked in the Top 5.  He was expected to drop due to questions on whether he would come to North America or stay in Russia, but no one expected a drop to 17th overall.

Months earlier, Angelo Esposito was supposed to be 1st overall.  He was taken 20th by Pittsburgh, traded to Atlanta, and has yet to set foot on NHL ice.  The Scouts were good to track his fall from grace and prevent an NHL team from embarrassment.

2008: 1. Steven Stamkos (TBL), 2. Drew Doughty (LAK), 3. Zach Bogosian (ATL)

Another dynamite top-3.  Although Bogosian has had a rough start in the NHL, breaking his leg and missing significant time, he tallied 9 goals and 10 assists in just 47 games (on defense, mind you) and figures to be Atlanta’s future on the blue line.  Despite a tough rookie season in Tampa, Stamkos exploded as a sophomore by scoring 51 goals and earning the Rocket Richard Trophy (shared with Sidney Crosby).

Some doubted the Kings choice to take Doughty over Bogosian, citing weight issues.  Kings GM Dean Lombardi himself said that Doughty’s body was very immature at the time they drafted him and still could use some work.  However, Doughty just finished a season where he led his team in playoff scoring, won a Gold Medal for Canada in the Olympics, and was nominated as a Norris Trophy Candidate, and all at the tender age of 20.

I doubt any of those 3 teams would change their minds given the chance.  However, the 8 teams that skipped Tyler Myers might want a do-over.

2009: 1. John Tavares (NYI), 2. Victor Hedman (TBL), 3. Matt Duchene (COL)

It was pretty clear that Tavares would be the No. 1 guy in 2009, despite the many conversations on Hedman and potentially Duchene.  There was even a fake Twitter account in the name of John Tavares that spawned speculation that the Isles might take Duchene over him.  In the end, it came out as predicted.

Tavares had a decent season on the Island, but the lack of support is really telling.  He will have to mature fast if he is going to helm this team to success.  Hedman, lauded for his ability to be an instant impact for an NHL team, was underwhelming.  He did instantly make the Tampa squad, but is not quite the 6’6″ Lidstrom he is supposed to be yet.

Duchene no doubt was the best of the 3 in his freshman campaign, outscoring Tavares (by 1 point), registering a plus-1 (contrasted to Tavares’s minus-15), and helping his team reach the playoffs (Islanders finished 13th in the East).

Let me be clear, the story of these players is not yet written and it is easy to make these observations in retrospect.  They are all still quite young and have plenty of time to prove their respective teams right, and the naysayers wrong.  What factor will be the little difference that pushes Hall above Seguin, or Fowler above Gudbranson, or vice-versa?

Who will be the team this year to snipe that late 1st round gem?  Who will pick up that late draft gem (probably Detroit)?  Which team will end up wishing they had June 25th-26th, 2010 to do all over again?

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Eric Cooney was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina, and lives in Los Angeles, CA. He shares his thoughts on the NHL as one man who is a northerner, southerner, east coaster, and west coaster. Follow him on Twitter @EricCooney

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In response to “The Draft: Top 3 Picks Since 2003”

  1. Adam Seidman Jun 7 201010:37 pm


    The biggest indicator of how ridiculously deep that 2003 draft was? Shea Weber went in the middle of the SECOND round.

    Here’s an interesting thought though. That 2003 draft class had the unique opportunity to develop for an additional year in the AHL or Russia or wherever because of the work stoppage, including those that jumped right into the league. Take Eric Staal for example, who produced a modest 31 points in his rookie season, and then exploded for 100 two years later after the lockout.

    Perhaps there’s something to be said here about development and the urge to rush prospects rather than give them the proper seasoning? I’m reminded of a comment I made in passing earlier this year about Detroit always producing these great prospects because they’re always blocked by good players and have to spend more time in the system. It’s something to consider when your team is looking for “players to contribute right away.”

    1. Eric Cooney Jun 8 201012:55 pm


      You make a great point Adam. I think a lot of teams want “help now” and then rush their prospects into the NHL, whereas that whole class of 2003 got an extra year to develop. That’s of course not to say some guys can’t jump right in like Patrick Kane or Drew Doughty, but a guy like Turris probably needed 2 more years in the AHL before coming up.

      Kings GM Lombardi recently said the dumbest thing he did in terms of building the Kings was trying to keep Bernier up with the team 2 years ago, it deviated from his development plan.

      But with the average “life expectancy” of coaches and GM’s these days, you can’t blame them for feeling a sense of urgency to succeed now. Often times that gamble fails.

  2. Ben Petrino Jun 8 20109:49 am


    The 2003 draft is pretty unique compared to other drafts and many people consider it one of the best draft classes ever. Nathan Horton hasn’t lived up to what Florida wants him to be but a lot of that has to do with the players on that team. Florida has had good picks for a long time, so I’m going to say that they are bad at drafting rather than Nathan Horton being bad. He shouldn’t have to live up to being a third overall pick because he shouldn’t have been drafted that high.

    If I was a GM I would have gone for Getzlaf or Brown. Apparently nobody but NJ thought Parise was going to be as good as he is now so I can’t say I would have been able to make that decision. There is never anything wrong with having big physical players who take on leadership roles.

    Tyler Myers was so big that I think that most GMs probably thought that he was only successful because it was at a junior level. Nobody thinks somebody who is 6’8″ is going to be a smooth skater and a puck mover.

    I feel for Turris because he was rushed into the NHL and then played for structureless bad coaching by Gretzky. I believe that he could be playing now if they let him get more experience instead of taking a team of prospects and putting them in the NHL to be beaten every night.

    1. Eric Cooney Jun 8 20101:04 pm


      You’re right on about Horton. Florida’s drafting has been a bit suspect so far. However they do have some gems like Booth, and Frolik looks like he is coming along nicely.

      A lot of teams missed the boat on Parise, and if you look at the guys taken ahead of him, almost all of them were bigger. The only small guy ahead of Parise was Robert Nilsson, who obviously isn’t in the caliber of Parise. I think a lot of teams wanted that big power forward type player (which 2003 had a lot of). But then there were guys ahead of Parise like Steve Bernier, who is mediocre, and Hugh Jessiman (Huge Specimen) who was an incredible waste of a draft pick. I’m hoping Zach Boychuk works out for the Hurricanes the way Parise did for NJ.

      On the other hand, your right about Myers as well. It’s hard to tell if you’re getting a Zdeno Chara or a Hal Gill. In ’06, Chicago drafted a guy named Simon Danis-Pepin, 6’7″ 220 lbs. He hasn’t gotten a sniff of the NHL.

      1. Adam Seidman Jun 8 20102:14 pm


        Danis-Papin went to four years of college (and graduated), so it’s not totally fair to label him a bust yet. He was a combined +20 in 51 games in the ECHL/AHL this year, so if there’s a spot on the blue line to be had on the Blackhawks (a tough ask considering the team’s current depth and salary cap concerns), he’d be the likely farm candidate. I would still expect him to fill the role vacated by Brent Sopel at the end of next season.

        1. Eric Cooney Jun 8 20102:17 pm


          I didn’t mean Danis-Pepin was a bust, just that he wasn’t like Myers and could jump right in and be a force. He is a different ilk of player. I understand how it could have sounded that way.

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