EVERETT — Stop me if you’ve heard this before: The Everett Silvertips will be looking for a center at the trade deadline.
Perhaps uncharacteristic of a team with a league-leading 24 wins at the Christmas break, Everett is once again woefully thin in the middle, an issue that was also an undercurrent during the Silvertips’ 2018-2019 season.
“We definitely need an experienced centerman,” Silvertips general manager Garry Davidson said. “That’s definitely an area that we need to address and find an experienced center that can help up the middle.”
Last year, Everett was in a similar position, especially when Riley Sutter went out with a significant lower-body injury in December. Connor Dewar moved from left wing to center to help as a stop-gap, and Reece Vitelli and Max Patterson filled out the lineup.
Vitelli and Patterson returned to the Silvertips’ roster this season, but both were traded. Vitelli was sent to Prince Albert in a trade for Cole Fonstad and Patterson was shipped to Seattle to solve the Silvertips’ overage crunch when Jake Christiansen returned to Everett from the American Hockey League.
Entering Friday, the Silvertips roster contains only one true center: rookie import Michal Gut, who has missed the past six games with an upper-body injury.
Gage Goncalves has centered Everett’s top line since Fonstad’s acquisition in October, but he’s still learning the intricacies of the position, which is considered one of the most demanding in hockey due to its defensive responsibilities.
The Mission, British Columbia, native has been a catalyst to Everett’s lineup in a breakout season.
“I thought he would eventually become an offensive player for us, so I think he’s arrived a little sooner than I expected,” Davidson said.
After scoring one goal as a 17-year-old rookie, Goncalves potted 16 before the break. That’s not what has impressed Everett head coach Dennis Williams the most, though.
“It’s not just what he’s done offensively, but it’s what he’s done playing 22-to-25 minutes a game defensively against (the top players in the division), guys that outweigh him by 50 or 60 pounds and have five inches on him,” Williams said. “I think what you look at what he’s been able to accomplish, not only with the puck but without the puck, I think it’s incredible what he’s done in the first half.”
As great as Goncalves has been, players like Patterson helped cover up his deficiencies — the overage center was Everett’s go-to center for defensive zone faceoffs when he was with the Silvertips.
Everett is seeking a replacement for a Patterson-type player, but the question is: Are they out there via trade?
“You always like a top-six guy, but who knows what’s going to be available,” Davidson said. “Right now, an experienced centerman that can do some work in the faceoff circle would be a real positive.”
The trade market is still blurry, with plenty of parity in the Western Hockey League and no clear frontrunner this season. Many of the bottom feeders in the league have already sold off much of what they would already sell.
Davidson is confident there will be some clarity when the WHL trade freeze is lifted on Friday, however.
“Up to this point, I haven’t seen too many guys try to sell a whole lot,” Davidson said. “I anticipate when the trade freeze is over on the 27th, you’ll see some movement.”
If Everett was to swing a deal by the Jan. 10 trade deadline, they will have to do it with somewhat limited assets.
As it stands, Everett’s draft pick cupboard is depleted after years of buying at the deadline. But the Silvertips possess their own first-round picks through the 2023 draft if Davidson decides to make a significant trade.
Of course, unsigned prospects on Everett’s protected list and the current players on the roster can also be used as trade fodder as well.
One thing is for sure, though: Davidson will be seeking to make additions to his roster by Jan. 10.
“I think we’re a good group,” Davidson said. “To be honest, we’ve come along a little faster than I thought at the start of the season.”
Josh Horton covers the Silvertips for the Herald. Follow him on Twitter, @joshhortonEDH.