Sharks feasting off class of '03

RANDY SPORTAK, CALGARY SUN

, Last Updated: 9:32 AM ET

SAN JOSE -- Leading up to the 2003 draft, the talk was that class had the potential to be among the best in NHL history.

Rivalling the famed 1979 crop -- which included the likes of Ray Bourque, Mark Messier, Mike Gartner, Rob Ramage, Michel Goulet, Kevin Lowe, Neal Broten, Paul Reinhart, Guy Carbonneau and Glenn Anderson just to name a few -- it was seen as having big potential.

So far, a few from the top 10 in 2003 are already NHL regulars, including: Marc-Andre Fleury, Eric Staal, Nathan Horton, Nikolai Zherdev, Thomas Vanek, Ryan Suter and Dion Phaneuf.

The rest of the first round also boasts Jeff Carter, Dustin Brown, Brent Seabrook, Mike Richards, Corey Perry and Patrick Eaves. Further along, you'll find Patrice Bergeron (45th), Shea Weber (49th), Lee Stempniak (148th), Nathan Paetsch (202nd), Shane O'Brien (250th) and Tampa regular Nick Tarnasky (287th).

Needless to say, the '03 draft class was loaded with gems.

But no team has mined it like the San Jose Sharks.

When the Sharks faced the Calgary Flames last night, there were four players from that year showing their wares: Left winger Milan Michalek (5th), left winger Steve Bernier (16th), defenceman Matt Carle (47th) and left winger Joe Pavelski (205th).

Sharks GM Doug Wilson said the credit goes to scouting director Tim Burke for a draft that has played a huge part in making the team a Stanley Cup contender.

The success, he opines, gave San Jose the ability to acquire Joe Thornton from Boston a year ago -- sending defenceman Brad Stuart, Marco Sturm and Wayne Primeau the other way -- without missing a beat.

"It's one thing to acquire a player like Joe Thornton but we had to give up three very important players. By having Milan, Steve and Matt Carle, and now Joe Pavelski coming from underneath, you fill one huge hole -- something you think you need to have to pursue a Stanley Cup, the one-two combination of (Patrick) Marleau and Thornton -- and you're able to replace Stuart, Sturm and Primeau internally and haven't left holes in the organization," he said.

The Sharks also sent second-rounder Josh Hennessy to Ottawa as part of the three-team trade that sent Martin Havlat to Chicago.

San Jose's fearsome foursome from 2003 aren't playing bit parts either. Michalek and Bernier flank Marleau on one of the league's best lines, while Pavelski has slipped onto the unit alongside Thornton and last year's top sniper Jonathan Cheechoo.

Meanwhile, Carle is making a case to be this year's top rookie.

Thornton, part of a heady Boston draft class from 1997 himself, can't help but be blown away by the crew assembled.

"They're great and they don't see themselves as young players. They're a big part of this team," said the reigning Art Ross Trophy winner. "The good thing is they're only to get better. You can see from last year, Milan and Bernier are getting better. The sky's the limit for those guys."

Wilson said having Thornton and Marleau makes it easier to add players to important positions.

But those four are part of a group of youngsters who make it easy to believe the Sharks will be in the Cup chase for years to come.

"We look at players who can help us win. You take a look at their pedigrees -- Matt Carle and Joe Pavelski won national championships, and (2005 pick) Marc-Edouard Vlasic won a Memorial Cup last year and played 104 games," Wilson said.


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