On Wednesday night in Cranbrook, Peyton Krebs scored a dramatic overtime game-winning goal against the Calgary Hitmen that sent the crowd at Western Financial Place into a frenzy.
Only moments after hitting the post on a rush chance, the 16-year-old planted himself in front of the net and ended up with the puck on his stick in the crease, after Jonathan Smart drove the net in the middle of a line change.
His ninth goal of the year and 30th point of his rookie campaign, the marker put him a point ahead of Vancouver Giants import Milos Roman for the most of any first-year WHL player.
Krebs, however, described the goal in the same way that he talks about all his accomplishments: crediting his teammates and praising his coach.
“I think [James Patrick] did a good job of drawing up the plan, [so] we knew what we were doing from the get-go,” he said. “We just battled and got some shots on net, and [then] it happened to go my way and I put it in.
“It was a great play by Smarty getting it to the net and I just tapped it in.”
A humble kid from Okotoks, Alberta, Krebs was the Ice’s first overall pick in the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft, but hasn’t let the enormous expectations affect him negatively.
“If you [think about the pressure too much], you can overwhelm yourself,” he said. “For me, I’m just going to do what I can control. The other things that happen around me, they’ll just happen.”
Although Krebs came into the league with oodles of natural talent, he can’t say enough about what Patrick’s coaching has done to further develop his game.
“As long as I stick to my game plan and listen to what James has to say, I’ll be successful,” he explained. “So far, I’ve tried my best to do that and to get better every day, [and] it’s been great.”
According to Patrick, the offensive success that Krebs has had — which also includes leading the Ice in points and being the second most productive 16-year-old in the entire CHL behind only Alexis Lafreniere of the QMJHL (35 points in 29 games with Rimouski) — has not been a shock to him.
“I’m not surprised because [I knew from the start that] he had the skill, the desire and the drive,” said Patrick, an acclaimed former NHL defenceman. “He wants to be the best. He works hard every practice. He pushes himself in skating drills. Every skating drill we have done this year, he wants to win.
“That makes the other guys skate fast with him [too].”
With 32 points in 31 games, Krebs hasn’t had too many significant struggles adjusting to major junior hockey, but finding players to keep up with him has been an evolving process for Patrick.
Starting off the year with Barrett Sheen and Gilian Kohler, Krebs has spent time as both a winger and a center, and recently has been in the middle between 20-year-old Colton Veloso and 17-year-old Sebastian Streu.
“The first month of the season, Sebastien Streu couldn’t get in a lineup and [recently] he’s been pretty good for us [because] he can play with Peyton Krebs,” Patrick said. “[Streu] is a fast guy who can use his speed and create turnovers, [which works well] because Peyton’s got such good speed.”
According to Krebs, his linemates have made his job as a playmaker and offensive-minded threat, easy.
“Veloso and Streu get me the puck and I can put the puck in the net, and they can put the puck in the net also,” he said. “It’s been a great first half and I’d like to carry on in the second half.”
Although there have been constant refinements to his game through the first four months of the 2017-18 season, his effort-level has made Patrick’s life a lot easier than it could be.
“He’s been able to play a certain way growing up and now, [he gets] to this level and it doesn’t work, but the good players find a way. They learn and they adapt,” he said. “I know earlier, there were times when [Peyton] would come on 10 rushes in the game and 10 times he would try and beat a [defenceman], one-on-one from the outside to the inside.
“He still does it [sometimes] and we show him video — [now] he’s found other ways. He drives the net when that’s there. He turns up and he finds a late man. He can make plays.”
His skillset and desire to compete has certainly got the attention of other teams around the league.
“The first game we played before the break against Calgary [at home], he was the best player on the ice by a mile, [and] so the next game, he had to play against their best defenseman,” Patrick explained. “When we went to Calgary, they put their best players against Peyton’s line, every time he was on the ice.
“He still got one point in the game, [but] it was tougher for him. He’s a 16-year-old kid playing against top forwards and defensemen, on a nightly basis.”
In addition to his success with the Ice in the WHL, Krebs also had a notable performance with Team Canada Red at the 2017 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge. Serving as his team’s captain, he earned a silver medal at the tournament in Dawson Creek and had one goal and six points in five games.
With a January 2001 birthdate, Krebs is considered a top prospect for the 2019 NHL Draft and should also be a big part of the resurgence of the once-dominant Kootenay Ice. So far in his first full season with the team, he has contributed to taking the Ice from the bottom of the league’s standings, to competing for first place in the Central Division.
The Cranbrook team currently has a record of 17-17-2-0 and are in second in their division, only four points back of Medicine Hat. Their next game is on the road against the Edmonton Oil Kings on Saturday at 7:00 p.m.