College hockey's commitment period for high school juniors opens on Sunday

Jul. 30—The first Wednesday of February used to be a big day on the college sports calendar.

That was the first day college football senior recruits could sign their National Letters of Intent. Coaches, administrators and media members huddled around fax machines waiting for the letters to come in as each team's fan base eagerly awaited the list of signees and the recruiting rankings from the experts.

But with the rise of social media, the athletes themselves have begun to disseminate information — from offers to visits to commitments. The info comes in hourly, daily, all year round. The prominence of Signing Day (there are now multiple college football signing days, in fact) has waned.

College hockey has never really had a day on the calendar with such prominence in the recruiting world.

But that may change beginning Sunday.

Due to a relatively new change in recruiting rules, Aug. 1 is the first day juniors in high school are allowed to field official scholarship offers and verbally commit to programs. The change was aimed at getting rid of the young recruiting trend. Programs were routinely offering players as young as 14.

That doesn't mean we will see every prep junior commit on Aug. 1, but most coaches are expecting to see a small wave beginning Sunday for the Class of 2023. Coaches have been allowed to speak with the juniors since Jan. 1 and have been developing rapports.

It's worth noting that any commitments by juniors will be non-binding verbal commitments. Until they sign National Letters of Intent — they won't have a chance to do that until their senior year — they can still be contacted and offered by any team.

NCAA coaches are not allowed to comment on recruits until they sign National Letters of Intent.

Using Chris Heisenberg's recruiting site as a guide along with historical knowledge of the top recruiting areas for NCHC teams, here are 15 names to watch when the Class of 2023 recruiting period opens Sunday:

Prospects to watch

1. Adam Fantilli, forward, Nobleton, Ont.: Fantilli is the potential No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 NHL Draft. He had an impressive first season with the Chicago Steel in 2020-21, scoring 18 goals and 36 points as one of the youngest players in the league. Fantilli scored eight goals in eight playoff games, leading the Steel to the Clark Cup as USHL champions. Fantilli visited UND in March 2020 on the day college hockey season was wiped out due to the coronavirus pandemic. He was able to start his recruiting earlier than his classmates because he's accelerating his education. Fantilli also has visited Michigan, where his brother, Luca, is committed.

2. Gavin Brindley, forward, Estero, Fla.: Without a rare talent like Fantilli in the league, Brindley would have been the talk of the 16-year-old crew in the USHL last season. He was impressive, scoring nine goals and 22 points for Tri-City.

3. Carson Rehkopf, forward, Utopia, Ont.: Not many first-round picks in the Ontario Hockey League Draft wind up playing college hockey, but the 6-foot-3 Rehkopf is keeping that door open. He signed a tender to play for Muskegon in the USHL.

4. Jake Livanavage, defenseman, Gilbert, Ariz.: Livanavage had an impressive rookie season, carving out a regular role on the blue line for the USHL's most dominant team, the Chicago Steel, as a 16-year-old. Livanavage is the half brother of Arizona State star Johnny Walker.

5. Jayden Perron, forward, Winnipeg: Only five players have ever signed tenders with the Steel. Two are UMass-bound defenseman Ryan Ufko (a fourth-round pick of the Nashville Predators) and now-BU forward Robert Mastrosimone (a second-round pick of the Detroit Red Wings). The other three are Fantilli, Livanavage and Perron. Perron is only 5-foot-8, but has big-time skill. He played for the Sioux Falls (S.D.) Power program last season.

6. Andrew Strathmann, defenseman, Beach Park, Ill.: The Tri-City Storm signed Strathmann to a tender and both general manager Jason Koehler and head coach Anthony Noreen said they believe Strathmann is one of the best defensemen in the 2005 birth class.

7. Gracyn Sawchyn, forward, Chaska, Minn.: Usually, at this time of year, nearly the entire U.S. Under-17 Team is college committed. Right now, only two are committed, meaning there will be a big push for recruiters to nab players from the Michigan-based National Team Development Program. Perhaps the most intriguing uncommitted player from the U17s is Sawchyn, who had a big year at Shattuck-St. Mary's last season.

8. Sam Rinzel, defenseman, Chaska, Minn.: Another impressive player from Chaska is Rinzel, a 6-foot-4 right-handed shot defenseman who averaged more than a point per game at the high-school level last season.

9. William Whitelaw, forward, Rosemount, Minn.: Whitelaw, who played at Shattuck-St. Mary's last season, was the No. 1 overall pick in the USHL Phase I Draft this year.

10. Quinn Finley, forward, Suamico, Wis.: Finley, the No. 1 overall pick in the USHL Phase I Draft last year, suited up in 39 games for the Chicago Steel last season.

11. Zam Plante, forward, Hermantown, Minn.: Plante had a dominant season with Hermantown High, tallying 61 points in 20 games. Minnesota Duluth may have an inside track with Plante. His father, Derek, is the team's associate head coach.

12. Grayden Slipec, forward, Surrey, B.C.: Slipec has committed to play for his hometown Surrey Eagles in the British Columbia Hockey League this season. Surrey coach Cam Keith said Slipec is already an NHL prospect and has potential to be the best local player ever to play for the Eagles.

13. Jimmy Clark, forward, Edina, Minn.: Clark had 15 goals in 20 games for Edina High last season and was able to play a few games with the U.S. Under-17 Team.

14. Jayson Shaugabay, forward, Warroad, Minn.: The top junior prospect from this area, at the moment, is Shaugabay, who was recently selected to play for Team USA at the Five Nations Tournament in Switzerland. Shaugabay's cousin, Adam, played football at UND.

15. Matt Mania, defenseman, Olmsted Township, Ohio: Cary Eades hasn't often signed players to tenders during his USHL time, but Eades signed two this year for the Fargo Force: Mania and forward Tanner Walos of Hartland, Wis.