NHL draft won’t be the next Haul of Fame

Nineteen years ago this summer the National Hockey League conjured something quite remarkable – the absolute best draft in modern-day history.

The year was 2003 – for those who have problems with math – and not only was that first round a bonanza but the following rounds proved rich with long-staying talent as well. Hell, Brian Elliott was the second-to-last player selected (Ottawa got him) and he’s still tending goal today. Ditto on Jaroslav Halak who was also picked in Round 9.

But that first round?


Marc-Andre Fleury went first (to Pittsburgh), then we had a flurry of top-drawer talent: Eric Staal, Thomas Vanek, Milan Michalek, Ryan Suter, Braydon Coburn, Dion Phaneuf, Jeff Carter, Dustin Brown, Brent Seabrook, Zach Parise, Brent Burns, Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler, Mike Richards, Brian Boyle and Corey Perry.

Second round?

Shea Weber, Patrice Bergeron, Loui Eriksson, David Backes and Jimmy Howard.

There are hauls, and then there are hauls. The 2003 draft could be considered the Haul of Fame (snicker).

Which takes us to this coming Thursday night in Montreal and the 2022 version. Appropriately the home city Canadiens get first kick at the corps of prospects and it’s likely(?) they’ll pull Kingston Frontenac star centreman Shane Wright’s ticket.

Before everyone gets overly excited, 2022 is highly unlikely to draw any sort of comparison to 2003.

Case in point – the New Jersey Devils and GM Tom Fitzgerald at No. 2 are shopping around their pick. This year’s pick-a-thon has been labelled as good; deep but not great.

And that brings us to Ottawa at No. 7.

The pick could be swapped as part of a package to bring in help, particularly a high-level right-side defenceman or a right winger, or Ottawa hangs on to it and rolls the dice.

General manager Pierre Dorion’s capabilities won’t be tested solely by the draft this week. The opening buy-out window for skaters swung open on Canada Day and the Senators have some thinking to do. Top prospects on this list include oft-injured Colin White who has three seasons left at $4.75 US million (cap hit) and defenceman Michael Del Zotto (one year remaining, $2 US million).

Then there are defenceman Nikita Zaitzev and goalie Matt Murray. Both have rich contracts and appear to have worn out their welcome in Ottawa.

Contractually, the team needs to find new deals for star centre Josh Norris, winger Alex Formenton, blueliner Erik Brannstrom as well as newcomer Mathieu Joseph. Make no mistake, Norris will get paid plenty. Formenton’s name pops up now and again in trade rumblings, while Ottawa will want to hang on hard to Joseph as the club paid a high price in Nick Paul to land the swift winger.

THOUGHT, SEEN AND HEARD: Kevin Fiala goes to Los Angeles. Good move to trade for, then sign the 25-year-old winger. Not sure if Ottawa was close on this (rumour mill says yes) but if the Senators weren’t, they should have been . . . That outstanding playoff run did Nick Paul’s bank account a world of good. The former Senator inked a nice seven-year-package worth an average of $3.15 US million per season. Is it too much to ask Ottawa Life for the same kind of deal over here? . . . I think I know the answer . . . Paul is a happy camper: “Seven years is a long time, and for them to have that confidence in me and to believe I'm going to better my game and be a better player and continue to help this team be successful and they see that for seven years … is really huge.” . . . The NHL schedule – reportedly – gets released next week . . . NHL free agency is delayed this year. We’ll jump in on July 13th . . . Did I miss something or has the Ottawa Sports Hall of Fame not yet announced this year’s inductees? There’s certainly no shortage of terrific candidates from the hockey side of things.