The consensus at the 2003 NHL Entry Draft in Nashville was that Alex Ovechkin would have been chosen first had he been eligible. But that didn’t stop the Florida Panthers from trying their best to draft him anyway.
An indication of the eagerness for teams to draft Ovechkin was demonstrated by the Panthers’ strange ploy during the 2003 draft weekend to try to take advantage of this close-call birthday. Ovechkin was born on Sept. 17, 1985, two days after the cutoff date to be part of the 2003 draft class.
According to a 2003 article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Florida General Manager Rick Dudley attempted in four different rounds to draft Ovechkin, arguing that, if leap-year dates were taken out of the equation, Ovechkin actually would turn 18 four days before his recognized birthday and thus have been eligible for 2003.
The NHL rejected the Panthers all four times, but the league did comply with Florida’s request to make the final one in writing. This way, if it is ruled that the Panthers were in the right, they could justify a claim on Ovechkin.
Dudley said team management hatched the idea a month before the 2003 draft, and he acknowledged its limited chance at success.
“It’s a long shot,” he said. “But, if it’s a viable long shot, we would be a very happy crew because he’s a special player.”
The 2003 Post-Gazette’s article is full of praise for Ovechkin, from players including Marc-André Fleury and Mario Lemieux, a full year before he was eligible to be drafted. You can check it out right here.