The 2003 NHL Entry Draft, held in Nashville that year, is often heralded as one of the greatest – if not the greatest – drafts in NHL history. A large number of the players taken in the first round have gone on to be NHL all-stars, Olympic medallists, and Stanley Cup winners. More than ten years later, these players have solidified their positions as heavyweights in this league before having even reached their 30s.
There have also been a surprising number of later-round picks that have developed into superstars – Patrice Bergeron, Shea Weber and David Backes come to mind here. But what’s most striking about these players is also how much money they’ve managed to make over the past ten years or so. On this list, we count down the top 10 2003 draft picks and their salaries for the 2013-14 season.
While the true top two current NHL superstars wouldn’t come through the draft until 2004 and 2005, the 10 men on this list represent the cream of the crop of an unbelievably deep draft year which saw each of the 30 players selected in the first round play at least two games in the NHL – very much a rarity for the league.
Some players had to wait several years – thanks in part to the 2004-05 lockout that wiped out that entire season – before making names for themselves in the league, while others such as Eric Staal and Nathan Horton jumped into the show right after they were drafted. Regardless of the trajectory of these players’ development, they’ve managed to become the big-time players their organizations were hoping they’d be when they drafted them, even if they have since traded them or let them test the free agent market. Let’s take a look at the 10 men from this draft year getting the most handsome paychecks over a decade later.
10 Brent Burns, San Jose Sharks ($5.76 million)
While he was initially a right winger, Brent Burns was drafted 20th overall by the Minnesota Wild and then converted into a defenseman by then-head coach Jacques Lemaire. Although he had quite a lot of success on the blueline for the Wild, it was when he was switched back to his natural position following his trade to the Sharks in 2011 that he’s clearly been the most comfortable. With a salary this season of $5.76 million, Burns remains a key player for the Sharks, having made the NHL All-Star Game in 2011 and represented Canada in the IIHF World Championships on several occasions.
9 Milan Michalek, Ottawa Senators ($6 million)
He’s never been at an elite level in terms of his hockey skills, but he’s good enough as a top-six forward for a team to dish out substantial amounts of cash for him. Milan Michalek was taken sixth overall by San Jose in 2003, and stayed with the organization until 2009 when he was traded to Ottawa as part of the deal that brought Dany Heatley to the Sharks. The Czech left-winger is making $6 million this year, and will hit the free agent market at the end of this season. Whether he will get an even bigger contract or see his paycheck drop remains to be seen.
8 Thomas Vanek, New York Islanders ($6.4 million)
After spending eight years with the Buffalo Sabres – the team that drafted him fifth overall in 2003 – Thomas Vanek has been lighting up the lamp with the New York Islanders, even if the Isles haven’t been much better than the dead-last Sabres this season. The Austrian left-winger is making $6.4 million this season, and has the bragging rights of having been an NHL All-Star in 2009, as well as the highest-ever draft pick to have come out of Austria. Vanek will be back on the free agent market after the end of this season, with the hopes of getting an even bigger contract either with the Islanders or elsewhere.
7 Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim Ducks ($6.5 million)
Ryan Getzlaf has seen his career come a long way from the days where he was a dominant presence with the WHL’s Calgary Hitmen. The 19th overall pick by the Anaheim Ducks in 2003, Getzlaf has played in the All-Star Game twice, has won a hockey gold medal at the Olympics (and has a chance to do so again in Sochi), and won the Stanley Cup with the Ducks in 2007. No wonder he’s earned himself a paycheck of $6.5 million this season, and will be seeing it steadily increase over the next several years, as his contract with Anaheim runs until the 2020-21 season.
6 Jeff Carter, Los Angeles Kings ($6.5 million)
This native of London, Ontario was drafted 11th overall by the Philadelphia Flyers in 2003, but wouldn’t see his name etched on the Stanley Cup until his mid-season trade to Los Angeles from Columbus in 2012. The tall centre who won gold with Canada at the 2005 World Juniors also played in the All-Star Game once in 2009, and has a chance to help Canada to Olympic glory in Sochi this year. Carter is also making $6.5 million this season with the Kings and has a contract running through the 2021-22 season that he had previously signed with the Flyers.
5 Corey Perry, Anaheim Ducks ($7 million)
Through his time with the Ducks after being drafted 28th overall in 2003, Corey Perry has established himself as one of the premier right wingers in the league. Perry has played in three all-star games; won a gold medal in Vancouver in 2010; won a Rocket Richard and Hart Trophy in 2011; and the Stanley Cup in 2007. Perry signed an eight-year contract extension last year, seeing his deal in Anaheim run through the 2020-21 season. However, it remains to be seen how Perry justifies his extension, as his performance in the playoffs last year was disappointing and saw him unable to score a single goal.
4 Eric Staal, Carolina Hurricanes ($9.25 million)
Despite not going to this year’s Olympics for Canada, barring a sudden injury to a player already on the roster, Eric Staal’s track record since being drafted second overall by the Hurricanes speaks for itself. The native of Thunder Bay, Ontario has won a Stanley Cup in Carolina, as well as a World Championships gold medal in addition to his Olympic gold medal in Vancouver in 2010, making him a member of the Triple Gold Club. Oh and he’s also been to the All-Star Game four times. The Hurricanes captain is making a whopping $9.25 million this season, and will be an unrestricted free agent in 2016.
3 Zach Parise, Minnesota Wild ($12 million)
A product of the fertile Shattuck-St. Mary’s school in Minnesota, Zach Parise was drafted 17th overall in 2003 by the New Jersey Devils. Since then, he’s enjoyed a career that has seen him represent the United States three times at the IIHF World Championships, and cause near-heart attacks across Canada by scoring the tying goal in the dying seconds of the 2010 Olympic gold medal game that would eventually be won by Sidney Crosby and the Canadian national team. Parise is making $12 million with the Wild this season, and signed a 13-year contract with the team in July 2012.
2 Ryan Suter, Minnesota Wild ($12 million)
Signing a similar $12 million contract for 13 years with the Wild is fellow 2003 draft pick Ryan Suter. Having been drafted seventh overall by Nashville that year, Suter has since established himself as one of the best defensemen in the league, being a finalist for the Norris Trophy last year (losing to P.K. Subban) and making the All-Star Game in 2012. The Madison, Wisconsin native – and son of Miracle on Ice team member Bob Suter – also won a silver medal with the United States in 2010, and will play for the Stars and Stripes again in Sochi this year.
1 Shea Weber, Nashville Predators ($14 million)
The highest-paid player on this list is also the only one who didn’t get taken in the first round of the 2003 entry draft. Shea Weber was picked by the Predators in the second round at 49th overall, and the native of Sicamous, BC ended up developing into one of the best defensemen in the game today. Expected to be one of the leaders of Canada’s blueline in Sochi, Weber is under a 14-year contract with the Predators after the team matched an offer sheet from the Philadelphia Flyers in 2012, underlining how important the Nashville captain is to his team.