Gage Goncalves is the poster child for persistence.
The Everett Silvertips center went unselected in the WHL bantam draft following his 14-year-old season. When he was 16 he was still not on a WHL protected list. In his first year of eligibility for the NHL draft his name was never in consideration, since he’d just played a season in which he scored one goal.
Yet despite all that, he now finds himself joining the Stanley Cup champions.
Goncalves’ meteoric rise in the hockey world reached another benchmark Wednesday when he was selected by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the second round of the NHL draft.
“I think it really shows my work ethic and my character,” Goncalves said Wednesday from his home in Mission, B.C., during a Zoom call with media. “I’ve never really been a guy to keep my head down or pout or anything like that. These past couple years the NHL obviously has been my goal, it’s the reason why I went to the WHL, and I just kept plugging away, kept doing what I needed to do to get to the next level and to be competing with the top players, and it’s worked out so far.”
Goncalves was one of three Silvertips selected Wednesday, when rounds two through seven were conducted. Defenseman Kasper Puutio was selected in the fifth round by the Florida Panthers and defenseman Ronan Seeley was selected in the seventh round by the Carolina Hurricanes. Everett’s other draft hopeful, center Michal Gut, went unselected.
Goncalves, a 19-year-old native of Mission, B.C., was taken 62nd overall, which was the last selection of the second round. He was ranked by NHL Central Scouting as the 80th-best North American skater for the draft, so he was picked substantially earlier than projected.
Goncalves, a lanky playmaker who measures 6-foot and 165 pounds, was unexpectedly conscripted into first-line centering duties by Everett last season — the previous season he scored only one goal in 67 games while playing primarily as a fourth-line winger. But Goncalves, passed over in his first year of NHL draft eligibility, performed better than anyone could have imagined, tallying 33 goals and 38 assists in 60 games while centering Bryce Kindopp and Cole Fonstad. He was the third-leading scorer on an Everett team that was one of the favorites for the WHL championship before the season was shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic.
— Everett Silvertips (@WHLsilvertips) December 16, 2019
He joins a Tampa Bay franchise that claimed its second ever Stanley Cup championship last week, beating the Dallas Stars in six games for the title.
“We had some good talks, some really good connections with the calls I had (with the Lightning),” Goncalves said. “I didn’t really have them circled, I didn’t really have anybody circled. What I was told is they were picking late in the second round and that’s where they kind of had me going. I’m just very fortunate to go to such a high place — they received the Stanley Cup, congrats to them — and I’m just happy to be a part of the Lightning.”
Everett’s other two selections were smallish, smooth-skating defensemen who were in their first year of NHL draft eligibility.
Puutio, an 18-year-old from Finland, was selected 153rd overall by the Panthers. The 5-foot-11, 180-pounder, who was the first-overall selection in the 2019 CHL import draft, was acquired from Swift Current at the January trade deadline. He had four goals and eight assists in 21 games with the Tips. NHL Central Scouting had Puutio ranked 76th among North American skaters.
Seeley, an 18-year-old from Olds, Alberta, was taken 208th overall by the Hurricanes. The 6-foot, 175-pounder was Everett’s first-round pick in the 2017 bantam draft. Last season he registered three goals and 29 assists with the Tips.
Seeley ended up being taken later than projected. He was Everett’s highest-ranked player by NHL Central Scouting, rated 75th among North American skaters.
Having three players selected matches the second-most players Everett’s had taken in a single draft. The most was four in 2006. The Tips had three players selected in 2007, 2010 and 2018.
The teams that drafted Everett’s players Wednesday retain their rights for two years before they have to be signed, so the three draftees are all expected to be back with the Tips when the 2020-21 season begins. The season is currently scheduled to start on Dec. 4, dependent upon the state of the coronavirus pandemic.