NCAA: Have Early-Recruiting Restrictions Opened Another Can of Worms?

Gunnery’s Alex Jefferies might be the best player in New England Prep hockey this winter. After a 57-point campaign last season, he’s projected to be one of the top scorers in the region and he’ll likely have NHL scouts ready to call his name in June at the NHL Draft.

Jefferies has been committed to Merrimack since October of 2017. He committed to former head coach Mark Dennehy and then re-affirmed his commitment to current head coach Scott Borek when he took the job in April of 2018; in fact, Jefferies has been committed to Borek longer than he had been committed to Dennehy.

With the NCAA signing period opening in just nine days (Nov. 14), Jefferies is Merrimack’s top target. He’s been verbally committed for more than two years, but the Warriors are ready to put that commitment on paper.

But now, there are reports that Jefferies is getting interest from Boston College. The New England Hockey Journal reported last week that BC head coach Jerry York offered Jefferies a scholarship.

This situation might have been inevitable, but it’s also a situation that may have been created by new recruiting rules in college hockey.

Jefferies, by the way, is still currently committed to Merrimack. As far as we know, nothing has changed there. But the Warriors are also sweating it out, hoping they can get this prized recruit over the finish line and signed on the dotted line.

For a program that’s rebuilding, Jefferies has the change to be a cornerstone player at Merrimack. At BC, he might just be another guy amongst several top players.

Again, Jefferies’s situation might have been inevitable, or could it have been spurned by BC and Coach York focusing more on incoming classes, now that the NCAA has rules in place to limit younger recruiting.

“(The new rules) have allowed schools to focus more on the class that’s coming in, and the one after that, which might have opened a different can of worms,” Providence head coach Nate Leaman said last week, “but as far as young kids, it’s a tremendous change.”

The NCAA Men’s Ice Hockey Committee enacted these changes last year, which eliminated all recruiting conversations between players and coaches until Jan. 1 of a player’s sophomore year of high school. Coaches can’t make offers to players until Aug. 1 prior to the player’s junior year.

“I think a lot of staffs are still watching the young kids, but the fact that there is no contact yet is awesome,” Leaman said. “It’s awesome for the coaches, because we’re not making as many poor decisions so to speak. And it’s awesome for the kids, because they’re not getting forced into decisions before they’re educated.”

No one is arguing that the changes were a positive step in trying to control the widespread early recruiting that had taken over college hockey. But Leaman’s point about teams focusing more on immediate classes is a good one, and the ongoing Jefferies situation is a prime example of that.

Could closing one can of worms open another? Perhaps. There certainly isn’t enough evidence to say definitively one way or another just yet, but it’s possible that the more teams are focusing on the next incoming class, the more teams will try to improve those classes, even if it means offering players who are verbally committed to other programs.

What will Jefferies do? Well, everyone’s waiting, namely Scott Borek and Jerry York. The fact that Jefferies didn’t immediately de-commit from Merrimack has to be a positive sign for Borek, who is in his second season and seems to have things moving in the right direction (the Warriors had the No. 8-ranked recruiting class by Neutral Zone this season).

Jefferies’s decision could also have a domino effect at BC, should he choose to be an Eagle. Jefferies’s addition, this late in the recruiting process, would likely mean that BC would have to move on from another recruit in order to make room.

And it’s important to remember that this is just one situation, which has become public. These things are happening with multiple programs across the country.

Recruiting has become a giant game of chess.