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Tampa Bay Lightning Top 25 Under 25: #2 Gage Goncalves

Syracuse Crunch Gage Goncalves in a blue #39 jersey leans into a shot at the Utica Comets net.
Syracuse Crunch Gage Goncalves (39) leans into a shot at the Utica Comets net in American Hockey League (AHL) action at the Upstate Medical University Arena in Syracuse, New York on Saturday, April 15, 2023. Utica won 5-4 in OT. Scott Thomas Photography

We took a look at all 35 players in the system that are aged 25 or younger (as of October 1, 2023) and ranked them. It’s the Top 25 Under 25. At #2, it’s GG Gage Goncalves after a breakout year in the AHL.


Age: 22

Position: Left Wing

Draft: 2020 Round 2 (#62 overall)

2023-24 Team: Syracuse Crunch (AHL)

2022 Ranking: 8th


Scouting Report

Goncalves has progressed up our Top 25 Under 25 list over the past four years almost by default as players above him age out, but he’s stayed above the pack, case in point his 40-assist season for the Syracuse Crunch last year. Goncalves had a good year playing with, among other players, Simon Ryfors and Alex Barre-Boulet. The two forwards accounted for 51 goals on the season, leading the team in a big way. Goncalves got them a lot of chances with his play with the puck, but especially without.

Goncalves has developed into the style of a prototypical third line support player — hard on the forecheck, always skating, and playing for rebounds with his shot and positioning in front of the net. The Lightning haven’t yet found a forward to meet the calibre of Yanni Gourde, but I’m guessing Goncalves might have a ceiling at around 75% of that.

While writing this profile, and in my research for my T25 ballot, the way Goncalves showed up on the scoresheet stood out to me. He had more primary assists than secondary assists in the season based on the numbers, but a lot of his highlight goals showed him either finishing a play made by others, or getting the puck to someone (usually ABB) who would make a play for a goal (either from a pass or a shot himself).

It brought me back to the type of player who consistency does the heavy lifting by winning battles or using their positioning to create an advantage. The skill that brings those players over the top is having poise and the ability to score in dangerous areas and when the playmaker on the line gets them the puck. The quintessential player in the NHL that does this is Zach Hyman. Anthony Cirelli is also in this mold — for a more local connection.

This skill type is quite valuable in the NHL for players who can do it well, and find a pair of stars to make it work with. Hyman had Matthews and Nylander, Cirelli had Stamkos and Palat, a player like Brandon Hagel has it with Kucherov and Point. Over time, top tier “good fit” players get their money and that extra value is list, but until then, it’s a massive advantage in value.

I don’t want to say just yet that Goncalves is going to be an NHLer on top-six lines, but another good year with good players could find him spending time in the NHL, and from there you never know when lightning strikes — sorry for the pun.

This potential is why we have Goncalves so high up in the Top 25 Under 25 and how he’s stayed above the rest of the depth options in the minors. To be brutally frank, the Lightning are very weak in the young players department. Zero players in our T25 list are guaranteed NHLers — likely for the first time ever in this series. Not only does it show the state of the franchise and where they are in their cycle — the end will come and the rebuild will be long, but that is not this day — but also allows not-yet-NHL depth to be top-three players ahead of potentially more valuable players.

In my mind, Hugo Alnefelt is the top player under 25 in the organization because, despite his lukewarm performance in the AHL, he’s very likely going to get ~25 games in the NHL this season as the backup/third string who can be sent up and down without waivers. On one hand, it’s not great that a player like Goncalves is in the top five, but on the other, he’s the guy at the top over everyone else, and that means something.


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