NCAA 2003 draft evaluation

By DJ Powers

For NCAA college hockey, the 2003 NHL Draft will go down as one of the best ever.

Of the 292 players selected, 72 (24%) were either current or soon-to-be collegians at the time that the draft occurred. Of those, 23 (31%) were already in college at the time they were drafted – a feat that has not been surpassed or matched since.

The 72 players selected represent 27 schools in five conferences. Only the CHA did not have a player drafted. The WCHA led all conferences with 24 players taken, followed by Hockey East with 19, the CCHA and the ECAC with 14 each and one from the MAAC (now Atlantic Hockey).

Cornell, Minnesota and North Dakota had the most representation in the draft with five chosen players each, followed by Dartmouth, Michigan, New Hampshire and Wisconsin with four apiece. Among the notable schools with surprisingly few selections were Denver, Miami and Minnesota-Duluth.

The fifth round saw the most collegians taken with 13, followed by the ninth round with 12 and the first round with nine. The nine first round selections were bested in 2007 when 11 mostly soon-to-be collegians were taken. All 30 NHL teams selected at least one collegian in the year’s draft. The Los Angeles Kings led with six collegiate selections, followed by the New York Rangers with five, and Anaheim, Atlanta and San Jose with four apiece.

Of the 72 players chosen, 27 (37%) have appeared in at least one NHL game. Collegians selected in this draft have played a combined 2,239 NHL games to date. The current collegians at the time of the draft lead with 1,411 (63%) combined NHL games played, while the future/incoming collegians have played in a combined 828 (37%) NHL games. Michigan State-bound winger Drew Miller is the only collegian taken in this draft so far to have played on a Stanley Cup championship team, as a member of the Anaheim Ducks last season. Anaheim selected Miller in the sixth round (186
th overall).

One of the more interesting stories that unfolded in the 2003 Draft was the fall (and eventual rise) of forward Zach Parise. Originally pegged as a top ten pick, the former University of North Dakota standout was bypassed by 15 teams until the New Jersey Devils swapped picks with the Edmonton Oilers to take the former Hobey Baker finalist with the 17
th overall selection. Of all the skaters selected in the first round that year, only Eric Staal, Nathan Horton, Dion Phaneuf, Ryan Getzlaf and former Minnesota Golden Gopher Thomas Vanek have accumulated more points than Parise in the NHL. Of the aforementioned players, only Getzlaf was selected after Parise. In 244 NHL games, the Fairbault, Minnesota native has racked up a tidy 159 points (77 goals, 82 assists).

No collegian taken outside of the first round has been more successful at the NHL level than former Dartmouth College standout Lee Stempniak. The St. Louis Blues drafted the former All-American in the fifth round (148
th overall). To date, Stempniak has appeared in 219 games, posting 117 points (54 goals, 63 assists). The pick that became the selection of Stempniak actually came courtesy of the Phoenix Coyotes, who traded the pick to St. Louis in the deal that sent Tyson Nash to Phoenix.

The St. Louis Blues and the San Jose Sharks are two NHL clubs that have enjoyed considerable success with their collegiate selections. In addition to Stempniak, St. Louis took two others collegians in the draft. Another notable pick came in the second round when the Blues chose former Minnesota State-Mankato star David Backes with the 62
nd selection. To date, Backes has appeared in 121 NHL games, posting 54 points (23 goals, 31 assists).

The Blues’ final collegiate pick of the draft came in the sixth round when former St. Cloud State Husky Jonathan Lehun was taken with the 189
th pick. Lehun left St. Cloud State after one season to play in the OHL with Owen Sound. He has yet to play in an NHL game.

San Jose may have landed the best sleeper pick of the draft when they chose University of Wisconsin-bound centerman Joe Pavelski in the seventh round with the 205
th selection. After a successful two-year stint with the Badgers that included a National Championship title in 2006, Pavelski signed with San Jose that same year and has been a mainstay in the Sharks lineup ever since. He has appeared in 128 games, posting 68 points (33 goals, 35 assists). 

Another collegian finding success in the teal jersey was defenseman Matt Carle. The 2006 Hobey Baker Award recipient was also the lone University of Denver representative in the 2003 Draft. The Anchorage, Alaska native opted to leave Denver after his junior season in 2006 to sign with the Sharks. San Jose selected Carle in the second round with the 47
th pick. To date, he has appeared in 151 games and has posted 63 points (16 goals, 47 assists).

The two other selections that San Jose made came in the ninth round. Boston College-bound defenseman Brian O’Hanley was taken with the 267
th pick, while Northeastern University-bound forward Carter Lee was taken nine picks later at 276. Both players actually played in the NCAA this season. O’Hanley appeared in only the season opener last October due to an indefinite suspension and has since left Boston College. Lee left Northeastern after two years transferring to Lake Superior State University. After sitting out the 2006-07 season due to NCAA transfer rules, Lee made his Lakers debut this season.

O’Hanley and Lee were not the only 2003-drafted collegians playing in the NCAA this season. Goaltender Kevin Regan and forward Dan Travis also did. Regan, who was taken immediately after Lee at 277
th overall by the Boston Bruins, just completed an excellent career at the University of New Hampshire that was capped with being named the Hockey East Player of the Year. Travis, who was also New Hampshire-bound at the time he was drafted by the Florida Panthers (141st overall, fifth round), transferred to Quinnipiac University in 2005. After sitting out the 2005-06 season, Travis made his debut with the Bobcats in 2006. He completed his collegiate career this spring.

Among the Canadian-based NHL teams, the Ottawa Senators and the Vancouver Canucks have gotten the most of out of their collegiate draft selections so far. The Senators selected three collegians in the draft. Two – former Boston College standout Patrick Eaves and former Wisconsin All-American goaltender Brian Elliott have appeared in an NHL game. Eaves, who was selected 29
th overall, has appeared in 168 NHL games and has amassed 76 points (39 goals, 37 assists). Back on February 11th, the Senators traded Eaves, along with former Western Michigan standout Joe Corvo to the Carolina Hurricanes in the deal that sent Cory Stillman and former University of North Dakota defenseman Mike Commodore to Ottawa. Elliott, who was taken near the end of the draft with the 291st selection, has appeared in one NHL game, allowing just one goal in the win. The Senators fifth round selection (142nd overall) of then-incoming Michigan defenseman Tim Cook has yet to appear in an NHL game.

Vancouver selected only two collegians in the draft. While their sixth round selection (190
th overall) of former Minnesota State-Mankato defenseman Chad Brownlee has yet to make his NHL debut, their 23rd overall selection of forward Ryan Kesler has done exceedingly well. The former Ohio State Buckeye has played in 238 games, posting 81 points (39 goals, 42 assists).

While the Blues, Sharks, Senators and Canucks have had very good success with some of their collegiate draft picks, the same cannot necessarily be said of the New York Rangers and their five collegiate picks that have a combined one NHL game appearance to date between them. And perhaps none has been more disappointing than their first round selection of Hugh Jessiman out of Dartmouth College. Jessiman, who was selected 12
th overall, has yet to make an NHL appearance. He also holds the dubious distinction of being the only first round selection, collegiate or otherwise, to have not played a single NHL game to date. 

Jessiman may be the lone draft pick coming out of Dartmouth College yet to make his NHL debut, but the school has already seen their other three selected players move on to the show. In addition to Stempniak, the 2007-08 season also saw the NHL debut of former Big Green teammates Tanner Glass and David Jones. Both players were selected in the ninth round. Glass went to Florida with the 265
th selection and has appeared in 41 games with the Panthers, while Jones went to Colorado with the 288th selection and has appeared in 27 games to date with the Avalanche.

What makes Dartmouth’s success in this draft even more remarkable is the fact that there were only three other schools in Minnesota, North Dakota and Wisconsin, that fared as well as or better than Dartmouth as far as the combined number of NHL games played and points accumulated by the players selected from each school.

Leading the way in terms of combined number of man-games played in the NHL to date is the University of Wisconsin with 357. As far as combined accumulated points by players drafted, the University of Minnesota leads with 210. However, the Golden Gophers have had only two of their five players selected actually play in the NHL – Thomas Vanek, the highest drafted collegian going fifth overall to the Buffalo Sabres, and Ryan Potulny, who went 87
th overall (third round) to the Philadelphia Flyers. Not surprisingly, Vanek is the NHL points leader among all the collegians taken in this draft, having amassed 196 points (104 goals, 92 assists) in 245 games.

Dartmouth and Wisconsin both have had three of their four players taken in this draft appear in at least one NHL game. In addition to Pavelski and Elliott, defenseman Ryan Suter is the other former Badger that had also played in the NHL. Suter, who was taken seventh overall by the Nashville Predators, has appeared in 229 games, registering 71 points (16 goals, 55 assists). The lone former Badger yet to make his NHL debut is Andrew Joudrey, who was selected by the Washington Capitals in the eighth round (249
th overall).

The University of North Dakota also fared well in the 2003 NHL Draft with three of their five selected players having seen action in the NHL. In addition to Parise, defenseman Matt Smaby and center Brady Murray have also made NHL appearances. Smaby, a second round selection of the Tampa Bay Lightning (41
st overall), has appeared in 14 games and has yet to register a point. Murray, a fifth round selection of the Los Angeles Kings (152nd overall), has appeared in four games, posting just one goal.

Among the NCAA teams whose players selected haven’t been quite as successful are Colorado College, Cornell and Michigan. The Cornell Big Red had five players selected and only two – defenseman Ryan O’Byrne and winger Matt Moulson – have played in the NHL. Between them, they have a combined 55 NHL games played and 16 points. O’Byrne, a third round selection of the Montreal Canadiens (79
th overall), toiled in the AHL with the Hamilton Bulldogs for about a year and a half before making his NHL debut this season. Moulson, who was a ninth round selection of the Pittsburgh Penguins (263rd overall), signed as a free agent with Los Angeles back in February 2006. All of his points (9) and games played (22) have been with the Kings. 

Colorado College and Michigan each had four players selected with two of them having already made their NHL debuts. Of the four Colorado College Tigers taken, defenseman Mark Stuart and former Hobey Hat Trick finalist Brett Sterling have made NHL appearances. Stuart, the 21
st overall selection by the Boston Bruins, has played in 114 games to date, posting 11 points (five goals, six assists). Sterling, who was taken in the fifth round by the Atlanta Thrashers (145th overall), has played in 13 games, posting three points (a goal and two assists).

Of the four Michigan Wolverines selected in the draft, former All-American Jeff Tambellini and defenseman Danny Richmond have appeared in the NHL. Tambellini, the 27
th overall selection by Los Angeles, was traded to the New York Islanders, along Denis Grebeshkov on March 6th, 2006 in the deal that sent Brent Sopel and former St. Cloud State Husky Mark Parrish to the Kings. Of the 79 NHL games that Tambellini has appeared in, all but four have been with the Islanders and all 17 points (four goals, 23 assists) that he has posted to date have also been with New York.

Richmond, who spent one year in Ann Arbor before going to the OHL to play with the London Knights in the fall of 2003, has appeared in 49 games and posted three points (all assists) with Carolina and Chicago. Richmond was taken by the Hurricanes’ in the second round (31
st overall), and was then dealt by the Hurricanes to the Blackhawks in 2006. Since the 2003 Draft, the University of Michigan has become a program that has seen a consistently increasing number of top-flight players being taken in greater numbers at the draft as seen in the years that followed.

One notable trend that has emerged since the 2003 Draft is the increasing number of incoming collegians and the decreasing number of current collegians being taken at the draft each year. A significant reason behind the shift can be attributed to the structure of the new NHL Collective Bargaining Agreement that was signed in 2005. While programs such as those at Boston College, Michigan and Minnesota continue to produce and develop large numbers of top-flight talent each year, others such as Colorado College, Denver, Miami and Notre Dame have emerged as programs that are increasingly attracting more and more of the elite to their programs as well, helping to continue to make the NCAA a vital source for future NHL talent for years to come.