Being in Nashville the past few days brought back flashbacks of the 2003 NHL draft, the best I’ve covered and arguably the deepest in history.

The superstars and impact players who came from that draft are extraordinary. The Wild now has three — Eric Staal, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter.

Other top first-rounders: Marc-Andre Fleury, Thomas Vanek, Jeff Carter, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Brent Burns, Dion Phaneuf, Brent Seabrook and Ryan Kesler.

It went beyond the first round, too. The second round was better than some first rounds — Patrice Bergeron, Shea Weber, David Backes, Loui Eriksson and Corey Crawford. Joe Pavelski was taken in the seventh round, Dustin Byfuglien in the eighth.

Sure, there were first-round busts — such as Hugh Jessiman and Shawn Belle — but every player in the first round played at least a game and 22 have played more than 500. If you were a team that didn’t have a first-rounder that year or missed on your first-round pick, you set your organization back.

“It was the best draft I have ever seen,” said Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher, who worked in Anaheim’s front office then.

The team I used to cover, the Florida Panthers, was a giant newsmaker at that draft. They attempted to draft Alex Ovechkin multiple times in the later rounds, believe it or not, by claiming he should have been draft-eligible if … leap years were taken into account.

With the 265th pick, once the league lost its mind one final time with the Panthers and a humiliated GM Rick Dudley stormed out of Nashville’s arena, the Panthers drafted Tanner Glass instead of Ovechkin. Glass is one of 45 players from the 2003 draft to play 500 games.

Also, the Panthers owned the No. 1 pick in that draft. They wanted Nathan Horton and knew they’d get him even if they traded down two spots, so they did with Pittsburgh. That meant Fleury became the second goalie in history to be drafted first overall and Staal went No. 2.

Yeah, another big swing and miss by the Panthers.

The Panthers should have just taken Staal first. He went on to win a Stanley Cup in Carolina. His 805 points rank first of anybody in the 2003 draft. Getzlaf is second with 767 points, Perry is third with 690, Vanek fourth with 664 and Parise fifth with 632.

“Over your career, you always compare yourself to your draft class just naturally,” said Staal, whose 335 goals are two behind Perry and 31 in front of Parise. “During your draft year, you want to be first overall, but when that didn’t happen, you just try and prove you’re worth the pick you are taken.

“It’s amazing how many phenomenal players came out of that draft and a lot of key pieces to a lot of teams in the league. It’s really a source of pride for me to be among so many talented players.”

The top five active scoring defensemen from the 2003 draft are Weber (461 points), Burns (452), Phaneuf (444), Suter (420) and Byfuglien (418), although Burns and especially Byfuglien are deceiving because they’ve spent time as forwards in their careers.

“It really crazy how many good players — star players, captains, even — can come from one draft,” Parise said.

The best maneuver in the draft? Fletcher’s eventual Cup-champion Ducks took Getzlaf 19th overall, then traded two seconds to Dallas for the 28th pick and took Perry.

“[Current Sabres GM] Tim Murray was the big Perry fan,” Fletcher said. “The staff was split, so he brought [then-GM] Bryan [Murray] and me to a game to see him play.”

It was a no-brainer after that.

“Normally your goal is to draft a good player in the first round,” Fletcher said. “In the 2003 draft, if you didn’t select an All-Star, you were falling behind your competition.”


Michael Russo can be heard on 100.3-FM and seen on FSN Blog: Twitter: @russostrib E-mail: