BRANDON — Looking around the Lightning’s development camp last week, forward Gage Goncalves stood out from the prospects.
In the three-on-three tournament, he cradled the puck on the toe of his stick, working up from the goal line toward the blue line. A flick of the wrist sent the puck left toward the boards while he jolted right to move past his defender. He collected the puck and set up a shot for teammate Cooper Flinton with ease.
Not too long after, he sent a slapshot flying toward the open net, putting Team Blue ahead 2-1 in what eventually turned into an 9-8 win.
Goncalves’ moves on the ice showed how much he has elevated his game in the past two years. The 21-year-old is coming off his first season with AHL Syracuse. And he could be one of the players competing for a roster spot in a couple of months at the Lightning’s training camp ahead of the 2022-23 season.
“I really think my development’s taken a huge leap these past two years, ever since I got drafted,” he said.
Over the past year, Goncalves felt like his skating took a huge step forwardt, mostly thanks to the work he put in with skating coaches Tracy Tutton and Barb Underhill, who both flew to Syracuse to work with players.
He worked on his stride and figured out how he could skate faster and more powerfully with an adjustment here and there, which in turn helped his on-ice production.
Goncalves scored 32 points (17 goals) in 70 games with the Crunch, finishing as the ninth-highest scorer on the team and second-most productive rookie behind fellow forward Cole Koepke (20-19—39 in 69 games).
Before this year’s draft, Stacy Roest, an assistant Lightning general manager and the Crunch’s GM, said Goncalves improved as the season continued, settling into a hard league against bigger, stronger and older players. Goncalves also made an effort to “dial in” more on his nutrition and habits in the gym, which were reflected in his fitness testing results.
The Lightning will need some prospects to step up in training camp after losing forward Ondrej Palat free agency (Riley Nash also remains unsigned) and planning to be without Anthony Cirelli (offseason shoulder surgery) for the start of the season.
And after some conversations with Lightning general manager Julien BriseBois and Roest, Goncalves feels ready for the next step.
“Hopefully I’ll be able to crack a spot this year or next year or whenever that happens,” Goncalves said.
Goncalves said if he could mimic any Lightning player’s style on the ice it would be Cirelli. Goncalves looks up to the center’s playmaking abilities and how his speed and tenacity on pucks make him a difficult player to go up against on a nightly basis.
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“He’s so good at just getting under guys’ sticks and causing turnovers,” Goncalves said. “But he still has that scoring touch … and if I can be half the player he is, I think I’ll be doing a pretty good job.”
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