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The NHL’s legendary 2003 draft class

With Jeff Carter and Brian Boyle, the Pens had two players from one of the league’s most legendary draft classes

Columbus Blue Jackets v Pittsburgh Penguins Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images

Since we had the Brian Boyle season review earlier this week, it might as well be the week of the 2003 draft class today on Pensburgh. It’s arguably one of the NHL’s best draft classes ever, and this piece from the Daily Faceoff caught an eye.

It’s difficult to argue against Bergeron, who just won the Selke trophy for a record fifth time. He’s been nominated as a finalist for the award 11 times.

The whole class is just loaded. Hockeydb shows 130 players from ‘03 made it to the NHL with an average career of 66 goals (2002 had 104 players make the NHL and 43 goal average, 2004 had 128 and a 46 goal average, for immediate comparison sake) and over 40 points more on a ‘03 draftee’s average career than the year on either side.

As we all know, the Pens took Marc-Andre Fleury with the first overall pick. In net he was joined by Corey Crawford, Jimmy Howard, Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott getting drafted that year.

Along with Bergeron at forward, there’s a practically endless collection of Stanley Cup winners, Olympic medalists, All-Star appearances, top line players, you name it: Eric Staal, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Joe Pavelski, Zach Parise, Jeff Carter, Dustin Brown, Loui Eriksson, Thomas Vanek, David Backes, Ryan Kesler and Mike Richards to just name the very top-end players and cut it off somewhere.

The quality on the list of defenders is arguably even more impressive and makes for almost a who’s who of blueliners over the last 20 years: Shea Weber, Ryan Suter, Brent Burns, Dustin Byfuglien, Brent Seabook and Dion Phaneuf among others.

The sun is starting to set on these legendary players, as we get to almost 20 years after their draft day. Only 16 players from the 2003 class still suited up and played in the NHL last season in 2021-22. Two notable members of the group (Brown and Getzlaf) have already announced their retirement. Some (like Brian Boyle and Nate Thompson) may or may not find contracts for next season, which means the group will get whittled down all the further with others like Bergeron still considering what the future will hold.

It’s perhaps impossible to choose a singular best player from the mix, but Bergeron at this point does have a clear lane to that title with his Selke’s, Stanley Cup, gold medals and everything he has accomplished in his illustrious career as an exemplary role model for players for years to come. With all of his wins and Cups of his own, Fleury has a pretty good case for “best overall career”, though Bergeron has been better as a center versus his peers than Fleury has been as a goalie against his.

The Pens employed two of the top ‘03 draftees in Carter and Boyle this past season.

Carter ranks seventh in his class with 817 points, though it will likely be difficult for him to move up on that number since the two in front of him are still active and successful (Perry and Pavelski). If Carter plays out the two season contract extension he signed earlier this year, he may well be the last remaining player from the class, or at least among them.

Boyle has survived long odds to extend a career and make a positive impact at an advanced playing age.

In years to come the 2015 draft class and perhaps another one will rage out to make a strong case against 2003, but for recent NHL memory there’s no doubt that the aging vets from 2003 stand up as the best the league has seen.

NHL Top Prospects Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images/NHLI

NASHVILLE, TN - JUNE 20: Several of the top prospects for the 2003 NHL Draft, including front row (L-R) Thomas Vanek, Milan Michalek, Eric Staal, Nathan Horton, second row (L-R) Ryan Stone, Dustin Brown, Andrei Kastsitsyn, Marc-Andre Fleury, Dion Phaneuf, third row (L-R) Ryan Getzlaf, Eric Fehr, Ryan Suter, Steve Bernier, Marc-Antoine Pouliot, back row (l-r) Dan Fritsche, Zach Parise, Braydon Coburn, Patrick O’Sullivan, pose with the Calder Memorial Trophy (Rookie of the Year) at the Gaylord Entertainment Center on June 20 , 2003 in Nashville, Tennessee.