Watching the playoffs, you can't help but notice the impact of the 2003 draft. Already, it stands among the best classes in league history. I thought it might be interesting to see what it might look like if the teams got another shot at it today.
I re-ranked all of the talent based on what we know today about these players and slotted them 1-30. I didn't take team need into consideration -- it's just a true ranking -- but we included the teams that owned the corresponding pick in 2003 so you can fantasize a little about what these squads might have looked like had the draft unfolded a little differently.
One more note about my rankings: I valued centers and defensemen a little higher because I think most teams do now, particularly after the post-lockout rule changes. So keep that in mind before the yelling starts.
That said, I think the first round might look something like this.
3. Florida Panthers: Shea Weber, Predators (2003: No. 49). He has developed into a Norris Trophy contender. He can hurt you with his physical game or his heavy shot. He makes a major jump to the elite end of the class.
4. Columbus Blue Jackets: Mike Richards, Flyers (2003: No. 24). I moved Richards to this point because of the impact he has on the game as a strong two-way center who also plays big special teams minutes.
5. Buffalo Sabres: Zach Parise, Devils (2003: No. 17). If he were a center, I would have placed him ahead of Richards. I think that means something when building a team. He's become a star for the Devils, who traded up to make the pick. Smart!
6. San Jose Sharks: Marc-Andre Fleury, Penguins (2003: No. 1). The happy-go-lucky goaltender has already led his team to the Cup finals twice, hoisting the trophy last spring. I moved him down a few slots because I have a personal bias against taking goaltenders that high in the draft. (And our past research shows you may be better off passing on all goalies in the first round.) Despite struggling a bit this season, he remains among the best young goalies in the game.
7. Nashville Predators: Ryan Suter, Predators (2003: No. 7). I have him ranked in the same spot. He's a quiet competitor who helps in you in all areas. Suter was terrific for Team USA in the Olympics.
8. Atlanta Thrashers: Brent Seabrook, Blackhawks (2003: No. 14). He's developed nicely into a smart, physical defenseman who can make a nice first pass and shoot it from the point. For me, he moves up.
9. Calgary Flames: Braydon Coburn, Flyers (2003: No. 8 -- Thrashers). After a rocky start to his career in Atlanta, Coburn has developed in Philadelphia. He's not flashy but he does a lot of things well. He's a tough kid and he can eat big minutes.
11. Philadelphia Flyers: Jeff Carter, Flyers (2003: No. 11). It's hard to judge his Cup finals performance after coming back from two broken feet. He's a natural sniper who can score goals. He put up 46 goals last season. I could be persuaded to drop him, but for now he stays here.
12. New York Rangers: Ryan Kesler, Canucks (2003: No. 23) A Selke Trophy candidate, Kesler is an ultracompetitive two-way pivot who seems to thrive on a challenge. He's a guy that helps you win. He should be the captain in Vancouver. In 2003, the Rangers picked Hugh Jessiman at this spot. He is the only member of the 2003 first round that has not played at least one NHL game. Ouch.
13. Los Angeles Kings: Dion Phaneuf, Leafs (2003: No. 9 -- Flames). A big kid who loves to deliver the bone-crunching hit, Phaneuf fell out of favor in Calgary after a terrific start to his career. He can score from the point with his heavy shot, but his play can be inconsistent. At this point, he drops down a few spots. I still see a lot of upside with him. The Leafs made a nice move to get him this past season.
14. Chicago Blackhawks: Patrice Bergeron, Bruins (2003: No. 45). He's another two-way center who can help you in all areas of the game. A significant head injury slowed his development. He too was part of the gold-medal winning Canadian Olympic team.
15. New York Islanders: Loui Eriksson, Stars (2003: No. 33). The goal-scoring winger has gotten consistently better over the past three seasons. He put up a career-best 36 goals in '08-09 and personal-high 71 points last season. His overall game rates him a shade above Thomas Vanek.
16. San Jose Sharks: Thomas Vanek, Sabres (2003: No. 5). The Austrian-born Vanek already has posted a pair of 40-goal seasons. He has terrific size and great hands. You might have him ahead of Eriksson. It's a close call.
19. Anaheim Ducks: Jaroslav Halak, Canadiens (2003: No. 271). The Slovak stopper enjoyed a terrific playoff run in Montreal. That followed a strong performance for Team Slovakia at the Olympics. That's pretty good stuff from a ninth-round pick. I guess you never know.
20. Minnesota Wild: Nathan Horton, Panthers (2003: No. 3). To be fair, Horton has not been in the best situation in South Florida. He has put up some good numbers, but he'd drop into the second half of the first round if we were picking today.
21. Boston Bruins: David Backes, Blues (2003: No. 62). He had a coming out party of sorts at the Olympics for Team USA. Backes is a power forward who can finish around the net. He potted 31 goals during the '08-09 season.
22. Edmonton Oilers: Matt Carle, Flyers (2003: No. 47 -- Sharks). The American-born defender has moved up the charts with a strong campaign in Philadelphia working alongside future Hall of Famer Chris Pronger. The Flyers rescued Carle from a bad situation in Tampa. I'll be curious to see if Carle can continue moving forward in his career.
24. Philadelphia Flyers: Milan Michalek, Senators (2003: No. 6 -- Sharks). He was moved to Ottawa in the Dany Heatley deal prior to the season. Michalek finished the season on the sidelines with a knee injury. He has terrific speed who should be a consistent 30-goal guy. So far, though, he hasn't put up more than 26 goals in any one season. Another interesting note, Michalek is the third player to appear on this list who was originally drafted by the Sharks in 2003. A fourth, Steve Bernier, isn't doing so bad himself. Not a bad haul for San Jose ... though only one of the four still suits up for the Sharks.
25. Florida Panthers: Jimmy Howard, Red Wings (2003: No. 64). The former University of Maine netminder made a major move up the list this year. He's a candidate for the Calder Trophy and he literally saved the season for the Wings.
26. Los Angeles Kings: Dustin Byfuglien, Blackhawks (2003: No. 245). Big Buff has opened a lot of eyes with his play in the postseason during the last two springs. No doubt the Canucks wish they had taken a chance on him.
27. Los Angeles Kings: Tobias Enstrom, Thrashers (2003: No. 239). The Swedish-born, puck-moving defenseman toils in obscurity in Atlanta. He stands among the very few late-round draft success stories for the Thrashers.
28. Anaheim Ducks: Jan Hejda, Blue Jackets (2003: No. 106 -- Sabres). Originally selected by Buffalo, Hejda went through the Edmonton system before coming to Columbus. Jackets GM Scott Howson, a former Oilers exec, liked Hejda's upside and made a trade to get him. Hejda skated for his native Czech Republic in the Olympics.
29. Ottawa Senators: Kyle Quincey, Avalanche (2003: No. 132 -- Red Wings). A waiver pickup by Los Angeles, Quincey was sent to Colorado as part of the Ryan Smyth deal. He's a steady defender. The Wings now wish they would have kept him.
30. St. Louis Blues: Andrei Kostitsyn, Canadiens (2003: No. 10). Talented, but inconsistent; Kostitsyn remains in the first round because of his skill. If you left him out, though, I wouldn't be broken hearted.
Questions? Comments? Submit them here.