The Tampa Bay Lightning selected Gage Goncalves in the NHL Entry Draft just around the month ago and he immediately made our 2020 Top 25 Under 25 prospect list, landing at the 23rd spot. This 19-year-old forward with dual Canada-Portugal citizenship was drafted as the 62nd pick of the second round. He’s also an overage player, last year all the NHL teams passed on him and he wasn’t expected to be selected that high.
The main reason why the teams overlooked him a year ago probably lies in his not very productive pre-draft season. Goncalves scored just 15 points in 67 games for the Everett Silvertips in the WHL during the 2018-2019 season; however his performance during the same year’s playoffs was much better. With six points in ten games, he helped his team to reach the conference semi-finals – but this still didn’t help him at the upcoming draft.
In the 2019-20 season he really improved his records, breaking a point-per-game pace with 71 (33+38) points in 60 games. He finished 16th in points in the whole league, three positions ahead of another Lightning’s selection in the latest draft – Jaydon Dureau. Unfortunately, the WHL cancelled playoffs due the COVID-19 pandemic and he wasn’t able to improve his numbers in the postseason, but still the Silvertips named him the most improved player of the season. Last summer Goncalves was named to Hockey Canada’s Summer Development Camp and recently earned a nomination to Hockey Canada’s Selection Camp, which is starting today in Red Deer, Alberta, to prepare for the upcoming World Juniors. While he most likely won’t make the final roster, it’s a solid achievement for young forward.
Speaking of the voting, writers and readers were almost the same on Goncalves’ ranking: he was mostly getting ranked in the second half of the top 25, with the most votes in the range of the 20-25th places. Personally I had Goncalves 20th on my list, ahead of some names who were already ranked one year ago in our ranking, and his invitation to Canada’s Selection Camp played its part in it.
Goncalves is currently listed as a 170 pound, 6’1” tall center. While his height and weight are not very outstanding, most junior hockey experts point out his physicality and ability to play with a high-energy pace. In fact after his first season in the WHL, he made a tremendous effort during the offseason, gaining around 10 pounds to be able to survive a 200-foot game as the team’s top center. He still needs to gain some weight, however this already shows his impressive work ethic.
Returning to his struggles during his first draft-eligible season, I should also mention that Goncalves started his career in the WHL as a winger and was moved to the centre at the start of the 2019-20. He not only worked on his athleticism during the offseason, but spent some time working with the Silvertips assistant coach on faceoffs, despite having little experience before. It later allowed him to become top-10 in the WHL among centers in percentage of successful faceoffs, winning 51.6% of them.
About the half of his goals during the previous season came from the power play. His physical abilities allowed him to not be afraid of going to the slot and fighting for the rebound. He also has a good shot, constantly testing goalies with his one-timers. While he’s been utilized by the Silvertips on power play, he’s also able to kill penalties, which makes him a decent two-way centre. His high hockey IQ and vision also help him. Goncalves’ main weakness is his skating, however he’s at the right age to improve it.
Last year Goncalves made highlights with his shootout goal against the Spokane Chiefs in the WHL. A couple of years ago he even attempted Kucherov’s no-shot shootout goal and now he has a chance to learn from Nikita Kucherov himself.
As for Goncalves personally, he sees his role model in the St. Louis Blues’ Jaden Schwartz, praising his grinding, physicality and also his skill which helps him to make an offensive impact. The Lightning’s director of amateur scouting Al Murray compares Goncalves with Anthony Cirelli, who had been developing and breaking his way up through the lineup from year to year. [NHL.com]
He’s one of those guys that’s a bit of a late bloomer, late developing physically,” Murray said. “I don’t believe he was ever drafted in the Western League and worked his way into the team. And it’s kind of a story along the Anthony Cirelli line, guy who needed to get stronger and needed to continue to develop, and as the season went along, he went from third line to second line to first line and just continued to get better all season long. Put up really good numbers, caught the eye of Hockey Canada, so he’s now on their radar for the World Junior team
Most of the experts see Goncalves’ ceiling as a bottom-six role. On his race to the Lightning lineup he will compete with other Lightning’s young centers such as Cole Guttman, Samuel Walker or even Mitchell Stephens and Ross Colton, who is not that much older. He will likely spend the next season in the WHL and then is expected to join the Syracuse Crunch in the AHL.