It’s not a secret that the 2003 NHL entry draft is one of the strongest drafts in history. It is arguably the strongest. The first skater taken is just a fistful of games from his 1000th NHL game, the guy taken 205th is on track to play his 800th NHL game before the season expires. I’ve made the argument you could put together a team from this draft that would beat a team from any other draft class.

Goaltending is the only position you can say this class might have as a weakness. The goalies taken in 2003 to have played serious time in the NHL are; Brian Elliot, Jaroslav Halak, Corey Crawford, Jimmy Howard, and Marc-Andre Fluery. All of these guys have played at minimum in the high three hundreds for games, and all have a sv% for their career in the teens. While I think Halak is capable of tremendous play, Crawford and Fluery are the guys I’d pick.

Defense is where it starts to get tough. Running quickly through the names draft, I came up with twelve defensemen who have played some really good hockey in their careers. My top four should surprise no one: Shea Weber and Ryan Suter as the number one pair. Next over the boards would be Dustin Byfugelin and Dion Phanuef. The physicality, offensive, and defensive ability of this foursome makes it almost irrelevant who the other guys are.

Matt Carle, Tobias Enstrom, and Marc Methot could all be expected to play the 12-14 minutes left over from the top top pairings admirably, but didn’t make the cut. Mark Stuart who’s very good in his own zone if lacking offensively, is clearly, if sadly starting to break down after roughly a bajillion hits and blocked shots. Looking at the third pairing, or arguably the 1C pair, you have to ask what the players have the other guys don’t. One is a gimmie, and that’s championships which means Brent Seabrook. The other is a powerplay specialist, which brings us to Brent Burns. Seventh defenseman is a little tougher, but I can comfortably go with Kevin Klein and sleep well.

I honestly won’t even try and number the top three lines, there’s just no point. You have Jeff Carter, Patrice Bergeron, Eric Staal, Joe Pavelski who it can be argued could all be your number one center, and all of them are worth talking about. Ryan Kesler, David Backes, and Nate Thompson are three more guys you have to look at for penalty killing, three zone play. and unadulterated ability to get under people’s skin. There’s also some guy named Ryan Getzlaf, and that’s just guys who have played a largely top nine position in their careers. Brian Boyle is worth considering for a pure checking line or penalty kill line.

The first gimmie on right wing is Corey Perry, even if he is consistently erratic in his scoring. Dustin Brown would have to be ironed out in practice as to which side he’d play, but thanks to the versatility of the centers, one or more of them will slide to a wing to fill a void.

The left side gives us Zach Parise and Matt Moulson

L to R the lines could look something like this:

Moulson – Carter – Pavelski

Parise – Bergeron – Perry

Brown – Getzlaf – Kesler

Boyle – Staal – Eriksson

Extra: Backes

In a best of seven series, I can’t see any draft class matching this one.

This series will cover all thirty teams and go over the most important player, and player who’s performance most needs to improve to help the team succeed.

 

The Carolina Hurricanes seemed like they would return to the post season until late in the season. They were playing well, Eric Staal had remembered to turn on his personality circuit for the All Star weekend, and the Carolinas were swept up in Beibermania Skinner-Mania as the youngest player in the league skated into the hearts of millions and the NHL Awards show for the Calder Trophy. Even the butchering of the national anthem by Clay Aiken couldn’t dampen spirits in Raleigh. Unfortunately for fans of the wayward Whale things were not meant to be. With the influx of new young talent, and also Tomas Kaberle and Brian Boucher, the Canes are clearly gearing up for something.

High Card:

This one couldn’t be simpler even if the team had a third star quality skater. Eric Staal is far too often overlooked as a player, and yet given the level of talent he’s had around him most of his career he’s still put up some impressive numbers. For my money he’s the most driven athlete in the entire division, and leads his hugely talented draft class in goals and points.  If he has a great season the teams odds of reaching the playoffs are pretty good.

Wild Card:

Cam Ward had the best sv% of his career across a record high number of games played. If he be that dominant again, he’s more than done his part. Unfortunately his .923 sv% is well above not just any other year he’s had but far enough outside his career average to make people nervous about him coming back to earth this season. With new members of the blueline, and some larger more mobile forwards in front of him he may find his job easier this season, or not. It will also be interesting to see how he reacts to having a man who has been considered a #1 goaltender in other cities sharing duties with him.