A class for the ages

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Despite losing out on the top pick in the draft lottery, Rutherford had an inkling he would get his man at No. 2.

“Just prior to the draft, it appeared that there were a few teams trying to trade up to the top pick to get the goalie,” Rutherford said. “We were comfortable with that because we already had our goalie in Cam Ward. … It worked out very well. Anytime you make a high pick like that and he helps you to win a Stanley Cup it is great. The fact is Eric is still very young and can lead us to future Cups.”

Going deep for gems

The first round of the 2003 draft was fantastic for both its star power and depth (25 of the 30 picks have played at least 78 games in the NHL, and all but Hugh Jessiman, the Rangers’ pick at No. 12, have made it there).

But there was plenty of talent in the draft’s later rounds. San Jose hit with first-round picks Milan Michalek and Steve Bernier (traded to Buffalo in the deal for Brian Campbell), but landing defenseman Matt Carle in the second round and forward Joe Pavelski in Round 7 with the 205th pick made the Sharks’ haul special.

“We have a good core group of young players that came out of that draft class,” Pavelski said. “It is funny because we were pieced together in different rounds, but I think we’ve all developed pretty quick and had some success at this level.”

A pair of eighth-round picks from 2003 - there are only seven rounds these days - needed four years before having a breakout season in the NHL. Chicago’s Dustin Byfuglien (No. 245) moved from defense to forward and finished the 2007-08 season on a line with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.

While the Thrashers traded a top-pairing defenseman in Coburn, they added another one at No. 239. At the time of the draft, Tobias Enstrom was a skilled Swedish defenseman deemed too small to have a future on this side of the Atlantic Ocean.

Then came the lockout and the rule changes, and suddenly size wasn’t all that mattered on the blue line. Enstrom joined the Thrashers this past season and became the league’s top rookie defenseman, logging tons of minutes and playing in all situations.

“If we had an inkling that Toby Enstrom was going to be that type of player and have that type of impact, we’d have taken him in the first round,” Atlanta GM Don Waddell said. “That is what makes the draft so exciting. There are no slam dunks. You are trying to project these guys to what they are going to be at 23 or 24 years old.”

A Fehr judgement?

When the time came for the Washington Capitals to select at No. 18, they were prepared to be patient. The Caps selected Eric Fehr, a budding power forward from Brandon of the Western Hockey League, and expected him to need time to develop.

Fehr made the Caps look astute by racking up back-to-back 50-goal seasons in the WHL the next two years. More success in the American Hockey League did nothing to dispel that notion, but his career hit a bump toward the end of the 2006-07 season.

A mysterious back/hip problem kept Fehr from playing for nearly a full year. He came back for the Caps this season, and the organization continues to have high hopes for the 6-foot-4, 212-pound right wing.

“We knew when we drafted him - I think we said it then - it was going to take a while with this guy,” Caps GM George McPhee said. “He was actually ahead of schedule until that hip or back or whatever it really set him back. But he is an NHL player now, and the issue is he going to get 20 goals a year or 30 goals a year or 40 goals a year? We don’t know yet.”

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