Ranking the NLL’s first-round draft classes: Class of 2003 is bold and strong at No. 4

Whether in Philadelphia or Calgary, Taylor Wray is among the best in the NLL on defense. (Photo: Larry Palumbo)
Whether in Philadelphia or Calgary, Taylor Wray is among the best in the NLL on defense. (Photo: Larry Palumbo)

So we’ve cracked hallowed ground in our ranking of the National Lacrosse League’s first-round draft classes, and there’s no doubt that the boys of 2003 belong inside the Top 5. It’s a class that’s heavy with offense in fellas like Ryan Ward, Craig Conn, Scott Evans and Scott Ranger. And who knows where this group would be today had the career of top overall pick Mark Miyashita not been derailed by knee problems. Add to that the not-realized potential of a few other picks, and this class could have inched a bit higher in the rankings. As it is, there isn’t much room to inch higher from the No. 4 slot but these boys can definitely hold their own with the best of ‘em.

2003 first-round picks

1. Mark Miyashita (Ravens)
2. Taylor Wray (Roughnecks)
3. Ryan Ward (Wings)
4. Craig Conn (Ravens)
5. Scott Evans (Knighthawks)
6. A.J. Shannon (Bandits)
7. Scott Ranger (Stealth)
8. Josh Bergey (Wings)
9. Thomas Hajek (Wings)
10. Kelly Hall (Stealth)
11. Kyle Neufeld (Sting)
12. Kevin Olson (Ravens)

Regular-season statistics

Games: 873
Goals: 927 (77.3 average per player)
Assists: 1,222 (101.8)
Points: 2,149 (179.1) (ranks No. 5 and No. 7 out of 24 classes)

Playoff statistics

Games: 65
Goals: 87 (7.25)
Assists: 117 (9.75)
Points: 204 (17) (No. 2 and No. 4)

Overall ranking: 4

This draft class kinda snuck up on people. Disappointing on some levels and surpassing expectations on others.

It’s tough not to pity No. 1 overall pick Miyashita, a forward with so much promise and potential, but whose career ultimately was ended by knee problems. Taylor Wray excelled as a defender and 4 of the next 5 picks are secure in their status as some of the game’s greatest offensive players. Ryan Ward doesn’t get a lot of credit for the work he’s done in Edmonton lately and Scott Evans has had his problems in the same city, but when it comes down to the numbers, he’s got them. Same with Scott Ranger and there’s little doubt that Craig Conn would be in the same conversation if it weren’t for the knee problems he endured.

A.J. Shannon was a solid runner for a few seasons, although many fans expected more, and Thomas Hajek recently wrapped up his solid career as a defender in Philly, where he is now part of the coaching staff.

As for the rest, well, they’re the rest of the class. But there’s enough here among the 12 picks to warrant a No. 4 overall ranking because these fellas produce during the regular season and even more in the playoffs, where the results really count.

Previous classes

No. 24: Class of 1988
No. 23: Class of 1989
No. 22: Class of 1993
No. 21: Class of 1994
No. 20: Class of 1995
No. 19: Class of 1997
No. 18: Class of 1992
No. 17: Class of 1996
No. 16: Class of 1991
No. 15: Class of 2011
No. 14: Class of 2010
No. 13: Class of 2004
No. 12: Class of 2008
No. 11: Class of 2007
No. 10: Class of 2009
No. 9: Class of 2006
No. 8: Class of 2002
No. 7: Class of 1998
No. 6: Class of 2005
No. 5: Class of 1999

Chavez is an avid lacrosse player in Rochester and a journalist for the Democrat and Chronicle as well as a longtime Inside Lacrosse contributor. Email him at bob.chavez@nllinsider.com or go to RochesterSports.com.

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