When Buffalo Sabres fans look back on the franchise-altering 2021 blockbuster deal with Vegas, they hope it will someday be referred to as the “Peyton Krebs trade” instead of the “Jack Eichel trade.” And if his performance this season is any indication, Krebs is ready to take the first steps toward that daunting summit.
The season’s biggest NHL swap sent former Sabres captain Eichel to the Golden Knights for Krebs, Alex Tuch, a 2022 first-round pick and a 2023 second-rounder.
Vegas originally took Krebs 17th overall in the 2019 draft. Prior to tearing his Achilles tendon two weeks before the draft, he was looking like a potential top-10 pick. The trade meant Krebs, 20 at the time, and his girlfriend had to pack up their lives, including their dog, and move across the country. But after graduating from the WHL’s Winnipeg Ice, Krebs was used to the nomad life – having played for Vegas and AHL Henderson prior to the November 2021 trade and seeing time with AHL Rochester immediately after, then finally being recalled by the Sabres.
“Being traded was a shock at the start,” Krebs said. “You get drafted by a team and you obviously want to play as long as you can with that team, but as I got to know the people in
Buffalo and Rochester, I felt more at home every day.”
Krebs had only one assist in 13 career NHL games across two partial seasons with Vegas, but his arrival in Buffalo changed his fortunes. Aiding that growth was a return to his natural center position with Rochester. Americans coach Seth Appert believes Krebs has elite building blocks that just need to be molded into place. “Peyton has elite competitiveness and elite hockey intelligence, so you combine those two things together and you have such a great framework to start as a hockey player,” Appert said. “His character as a human and as a hockey player is off-the-charts high.”
Elite or not, Krebs was
disappointed with his post-trade assignment to the AHL. But a chat with Appert turned his mentality around. “I was a little stressed out,” Krebs said. “I said I wanted to play in the NHL. We talked about just working hard and having fun, relaxing and being yourself, and you’ll be great.”
Putting up 15 points in 18 AHL games, Krebs started to show the playmaking ability that scouts drooled over in his draft season. His heady play earned him a call-up to Buffalo, where he posted seven goals and 22 points in 48 games. Still, the six-foot Alberta native believed he was only scratching the surface of his big-league potential. “When you get called up for the first time, you’re nervous,” Krebs said. “You don’t want to mess up, you don’t have that calm to your game. I can make all those plays, but I need to add some calmness and not rush the offense. I want to score every shift, but I need to have a more time-and-place mentality.”
When Buffalo’s season ended, Krebs was returned to the AHL. This time, though, it wasn’t a demotion but rather an opportunity to gain playoff experience, and he arrived armed with renewed confidence.
Appert believes the experience will help Krebs take the next step. “To be trusted defensively, to be out there in the last minutes of an elimination game and have to execute, those are important moments,” Appert said. “Sometimes, a younger player in the NHL can just survive, and that’s OK because the older guys are doing the heavy lifting, but in the AHL, we’re counting on our younger guys to deliver. It’s a healthy pressure and you gain and earn a lot of confidence in yourself.”
That confidence showed in Krebs, who immediately produced at a point-per-game pace for Rochester.
In major junior, Krebs could almost score at will. As a pro, he’s learning to be the complete package and choose his moments. With that, he believes success will find him. “Honest defense equals offense,” Krebs said. “Some shifts, I might just have to chip it in and live to fight another day, and other shifts, I have to capitalize. In junior, you can just run and gun every shift and score goals, but you really have to narrow down your defensive zone up in pro hockey and allow yourself to blossom offensively.”
Although big expectations await, Krebs is focusing on the present. “I’m a live-in-the-moment guy,” he said. “The biggest thing was just getting comfortable being myself, that’s the biggest mentality, just be yourself and don’t try to be a player you’re not.”
It’s a healthy stance following a trade – and a season where he played for four different professional teams. And as Krebs continues to develop confidence and belief in himself, that top-10 pick potential will continue to shine through.
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