Looking back at the first round of the 2003 NHL Draft, this clearly was a deep round in a deep draft. Aside from Hugh Jessiman (#12 overall by NY Rangers) and Shawn Belle (#30 overall by St. Louis), no first round pick has played less than 192 games in the NHL, with the most coming from Eric Staal (#2 overall by Carolina) at 690 career games.
Looking at the first round draft class, achieving success has not been hard. The following picks have won a Stanley Cup:
- #1 – Marc-Andre Fleury, Pittsburgh Penguins
- #2 – Eric Staal, Carolina Hurricanes
- #3 – Nathan Horton, Florida Panthers
- #11 – Jeff Carter, Philadelphia Flyers
- #13 – Dustin Brown, Los Angeles Kings
- #14 – Brent Seabrook, Chicago Blackhawks (won two)
- #19 – Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim Ducks
- #28 – Corey Perry, Anaheim Ducks
To make that a little easier, 27% (8 of 30) of the first-round has won at least one Stanley Cup.
Braydon Coburn (#8 overall), Steve Bernier (#16 overall), Zach Parise (#17 overall), and Ryan Kesler (#23 overall) have been to a Stanley Cup Final, but did not win.
Adding those together, you’ll see that 40% (12 of 30) of first round picks have at least been to the Stanley Cup Final.
Sabres forward Thomas Vanek is most statistically successful draft pick to have not at least made the Stanley Cup Finals. Looking further, Vanek is the third-highest scoring draft pick in the ENTIRE 2003 draft class, of 292 players.
Looking past the first round, a handful of players were taken that helped make the 2003 draft arguably one of the deepest ever.
- #33 – Loui Eriksson, Dallas Stars (357 pts. in 501 GP)
- #45 – Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins (433 pts. in 579 games)
- #49 – Shea Weber, Nashville Predators (291 pts. in 528 GP)
- #52 – Corey Crawford, Chicago Blackhawks (83 wins in 152 GP)
- #62 – David Backes, St. Louis Blues (300 pts. in 494 GP)
- #64 – Jimmy Howard, Detroit Red Wings (131 wins in 234 GP)
- #205 – Joe Pavelski, San Jose Sharks (336 pts in 479 GP)
- #239 – Tobias Enstrom, Atlanta Thrashers (219 pts. in 402 GP)
- #245 – Dustin Byfuglien, Chicago Blackhawks (243 pts. in 450 GP)
- #263 – Matt Moulson, Pittsburgh Penguins (224 pts. in 322 GP)
- #271 – Jaroslav Halak, Montreal Canadiens (115 wins in 220 GP)
- #291 – Brian Elliott, Ottawa Senators (98 wins in 204 GP)
Patrice Bergeron has won a Stanley Cup, Selke Trophy and King Clancy Trophy. Shea Weber is the captain of the Nashville Predators. Corey Crawford has won a Stanley Cup. David Backes is the captain of the St. Louis Blues. Dustin Byfuglien has won a Stanley Cup.
From the 2003 NHL Draft, twenty-four players have been named NHL All-Stars and seven have been named a captain for their respective team. Also, one-third of the 2010 Olympic Gold Medal winning Team Canada was made up of players from this draft.
What does all this “best draft ever” talk do for us as Sabres fans? It goes to show that 2003 was one of the more uneventful and non-impactful drafts in Sabres history.
- Thomas Vanek – LW, #5 overall: By far, Vanek has been the Buffalo Sabres best pick from the draft. Prior to the draft, Vanek was part of the Minnesota Golden Gophers that won the 2003 NCAA National Championship. Vanek was named MVP of that tournament. With the fifth pick in the subsequent draft, it was a very easy decision for Buffalo to select Vanek. In his first professional season with the Rochester Americans, Vanek made it known that he was ready for the NHL. In the 2003-04 season, Vanek scored 42 goals in 74 games, adding 26 assists. Vanek earned a spot with the big club at the start of the 2004-05 season, and has made an impact in Buffalo ever since. Following the most recent season, Vanek’s 250 career goals place him 6th in franchise history. Vanek’s assist total of 238 and career point total of 488 also have him in the franchise’s top ten of those respective categories.
- Branislav Fabry – RW, #65 overall: Never played professionally in North America. Last played for in 2012-13 for Ertis Pavlodar in Kazakhstan.
- Clarke MacArthur – LW, #74 overall: MacArthur spent parts of the first four seasons of his professional career in the AHL, playing for Rochester. MacArthur’s time with the Sabres was spread over four seasons. MacArthur started off slow but had good back to back years in 2008-09 with 31 points, and 2009-10 with 26 points in 60 games before being traded to the Atlanta Thrashers at the Trade Deadline in 2009-10. Recently, MacArthur signed a two-year deal with the Ottawa Senators.
- Jan Hejda – D, #106 overall: Hejda, a six-year veteran of the NHL, never played a game in the Sabres organization. Hejda played three seasons in Russia after being drafted by the Sabres, and was traded to the Edmonton Oilers in 2006 for a seventh round pick, while Hejda was still in Russia. Most recently, Hejda played for the Colorado Avalanche in the 2012-13 season.
- Denis Yezhov – D #114 overall: Never played professionally in North America. Will play in KHL for Amur Khabarovsk in 2013-14.
- Thomas Morrow – D #150 overall: Went to play four seasons at Boston University, never played in Sabres organization. Last played in 2009-10 for Kalamazoo Wings of ECHL.
- Pavel Voroshnin – D #172 overall: Went to Russia following final OHL season in 2003-04. Never played in Sabres organization. Last played for Buran Voronezh of VHL in 2012-13.
- Nathan Paetsch – D, #202 overall: Paetsch had three productive seasons with the Rochester Americans of the AHL, was recalled by the Sabres in the 2005-06 postseason, to help in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Carolina Hurricanes. Paetsch played parts of five seasons with the Sabres, and was traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2009-10. Paetsch most recently played for the Grand Rapids Griffins in 2012-13, where he won the Calder Cup.
- Jeff Weber – G, #235 overall: Never played in Sabres organization. Last played for University of Calgary in 2009-10.
- Louis-Philippe Martin – RW, #266 overall: Never played in Sabres organization. Last played for Saint-Georges COOL-FM of LNAH in 2008-09.
When looking back at this draft, Thomas Vanek is the only player that the Sabres still have from the 2003 NHL Draft. While Vanek’s impact on the organization has been huge, it shows you how fluid things are in the league. Looking back allows you to ponder what could’ve been, only if the Sabres had scouted and drafted a little bit better. It is safe to say that we can look back on this draft for a long time and talk about how phenomenally talented the 2003 NHL Draft truly was.