Produced by the Western Hockey League in partnership with BC Tree Fruits, “Growing the Game’s Best Talent” is a multi-part series highlighting the next generation of WHL stars set to embark on a journey pursuing NHL dreams. “Growing the Game’s Best Talent” can be seen monthly at WHL.ca, featuring a key member of the upcoming 2019 NHL Draft Class. Together, the WHL and BC Tree Fruits are “Growing the Game’s Best Talent.”
From minor hockey straight through to the WHL and the international stage, Winnipeg ICE captain Peyton Krebs would be the first to say that there’s always a player out there better than him.
It’s not meant to discredit his abilities on the ice, but all part of the challenge. The thrill of the chase is what drives Krebs each time he laces up the skates, even for the simple formality of a practice.
“You have to be a student of the game and each and every night you have to come into it and learn new things,” Krebs said. “In the game, you just play the game and be your best, you’re not watching too much, but you pick little things that you [see], whether it’s protecting the puck, little things that might help you.”
It’s that level of commitment to constant improvement that has Krebs ranked 10th by National Hockey League’s Central Scouting in their final rankings ahead of the 2019 NHL Draft, a distinction given to just four WHL skaters.
At 5-foot-11, 180-pounds, Krebs comes in as the smallest on both counts when compared to other Top 10 WHL talents, but if you think that’s stopped him for even a second, think again. Playing tough minutes against an opponent’s top players has become a regular occurrence for the product of Okotoks, Alta.
“When we’re on the road, he gets it,” noted ICE head coach James Patrick. “They want to play real heavy against him, they want to play physical.”
Peyton has welcomed that challenge each step of the way, taking the hard road to notch six points (1G-5A) in a six-game audition with the ICE during the 2016-17 WHL Regular Season, followed by a 54-point (17G-37A) performance in his rookie campaign. This season, he resumed his point-per-game ways with 68 points (19G-49A) in 64 games, establishing career-high totals in all three categories.
It’s helped that even though he knows there are the questioning eyes and minds of scouts watching his every move on the ice, he’s been through this process in a way before. Hyped as and then made official in May 2016, Krebs was selected first overall at the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft, experiencing a small part of the draft-mania he’ll face in the lead up to June.
“You can take a lot from what I lived in the [WHL] Bantam Draft,” Krebs said. “It’s pretty similar in ways that it’s — they don’t necessarily talk to you as much, they have their eyes on you, which is about the same.
“Here it’s a lot bigger stage. For me personally, I’ve just got to keep working hard, having fun, doing my thing, and let the rest fall in place. As long as I do that, the pressures of anyone watching, all that goes away.”
The middle in a trio of brothers with ties to the WHL, the brotherly competition is what fuels him as well, especially with his 19-year-old brother Dakota, a defenceman for the Calgary Hitmen, challenging him on and off the ice. The Krebs family will continue to populate the Central Division with Dru Krebs, a second-round selection of the Medicine Hat Tigers at the 2018 WHL Bantam Draft.
“[Dakota and] I we compete in the summer through workouts and then once the season comes, at the end of the game you give him a hug, but on the inside you know you want to win,” Krebs said. “It’s been pretty special. He’s a hard [defenceman] to play against. He’s a really good player and I think I’ve learned a lot from him from the work ethic.
“I look up to him a lot, but obviously as a younger brother, you want to beat your older brother.”
For the record, Peyton’s ICE claimed the first victory in the season series, but Dakota’s Hitmen answered back with five-straight victories to claim bragging rights in the season series.
“As far as playing the game, the maturity to his game, I can’t see him not making it [to the NHL] because he’s willing to do anything it takes,” Patrick added. “As far as diet, as far as training, as far as workout habits, everything is so driven about making him better.
“He’s got an inner-drive, but he’s so focused on [his goals]. He’s good in school, he’s a respectful person.”
Patrick, a veteran of over 1,200 NHL games has continued to cultivate Krebs’ path to professional hockey. He added the two often talk about players in the NHL, what they did and why on a certain play to improve Peyton’s understanding of where he needs to make subtle improvements that’ll further make him a standout.
It’s not a surprise then that Hockey Canada has already come calling for him to represent them on the international stage. At the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge last season, Krebs captained Canada to a silver medal and then won gold at the 2018 Hlinka Gretzky Cup over the summer. In both tournaments, he averaged a point-per-game or better as his offensive game reached another level.
“When you’re skating around in warm ups, you get a little smile to yourself because it’s a pretty cool feeling,” Krebs said of both chances to wear the red and white. “You’ve dreamed of doing that, you watch World Juniors your whole life, the Olympics.
“Obviously that’s pretty high-caliber hockey and it’s a fun time for sure. When you get your first taste of international hockey, you see how good players are in the world, not only in your age group.”
Krebs got extra experience at the end of the regular season, captaining Canada at the 2019 IIHF Under-18 World Championship. He continued to lead by example offensively, recording 10 points (6G-4A) in seven games.
Through it all, the draft attention, the brotherly rivalry, and the international stage, Krebs is still the same person from his younger days that puts fun at the forefront of his hockey experience. He’s just a little stronger and faster than he was before.
Continuing that feeling is what matters most to the 18-year-old a far as his development goes.
“You don’t want to overthink it and do too much to try to get ranked higher. I think everyone has their own skill set. There’s a reason you’re on that radar and if the team likes you, they’re going to pick you. I’m just going to keep working hard and having fun.”