It’s taken all but two games for 2019 Vegas Golden Knights first-round pick Peyton Krebs to show he belongs at the professional level.
For what it’s worth, Krebs is just happy to play hockey right now. Whether it be in the balming 60-degree winters of Southern Nevada or the gripping vices of negative-12 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, that Krebs has this opportunity is enough of an invocation.
“A lot of people during this time obviously have lost their jobs and lost a lot of things, and I’ve just been fortunate just to be able to play hockey,” Krebs said. “I’m really fortunate with that.”
The NHL’s pandemic rules have created a loophole for Krebs to stick around. In normal years, the Golden Knights would be forced to keep Krebs or send him back to juniors. However, without junior hockey, the league is allowing juniors eligible players to play in the AHL.
And as long Krebs is with the AHL’s Henderson Silver Knights, he’s making every minute count.
Krebs capped off a 3-point night with his first pro goal at 13:36 of the second period Monday, a 6-2 victory for Henderson over the Ontario Reign. It came at the expense of a 5-on-3, but Krebs buried a backdoor one-timer from Lucas Elvenes.
The Silver Knights are off to a 2-0 start after sweeping their opening-season series with Ontario, outscoring the Reign 11-4. Krebs’ four points (one goal, three assists) are tied with linemate Danny O’Regan atop the team’s leaderboard.
“It was nice to come from the bubble and have that experience and have a long training camp,” Krebs said.
At 19 years old, Krebs doesn’t look out of place. After recording an assist on Saturday, Krebs picked up two more helpers on two goals from Reid Duke.
Krebs is a natural-born center. It’s evident in the way he passes the puck. His first assist to Duke, he could’ve taken a shot from the left side. Instead, he saw Duke trailing the play and let the first-ever Golden Knight take the shot.
On Monday, Krebs played left wing. At times during World Juniors, he was on the right side. His versatility gives coach Manny Viveiros plenty to work with.
“Really impressed with the young man. The kid’s got a motor on him. He doesn’t quit,” Viveiros said. “He practices the same way he plays and he always gets after the puck. Really impressive to see.”
It’s been a wild six months for Krebs, starting with joining the Golden Knights in the Stanley Cup Playoff bubble. He never played, but Krebs took warmups on nights of major playoff games. Even Pete DeBoer admitted at times there were chances Krebs almost got into the lineup.
While not playing, Krebs used that time to learn, as teenagers should on Stanley Cup contenders. Recently-retired Deryk Engelland was one of the many veterans Krebs gravitated toward as Vegas got deeper into the playoffs.
After one round in the Edmonton bubble, Krebs went back to Edmonton and competed for Team Canada at World Juniors in December. On a squad loaded with future NHL stars, Krebs was third on Canada with eight points and was a top-six mainstay toward the end of the tournament. Canada lost in the gold medal game to the United States, but Krebs would soon be on a flight to Southern Nevada with an unknown future ahead.
There was growing expectation upon Krebs’ arrival that he would compete for an NHL roster spot. His game had progressed so much in such a short amount of time, that burning his entry-level deal rather than sending him back to the Winnipeg Ice seemed plausible. With the Western Hockey League still trying to find ways to start a season, pro clubs have used this extended delay to get meaningful time for their young players.
“It’s been a long time in a hotel, for sure,” Krebs said. “It’s something I’m not taking for granted. I’m loving every second of it. Definitely a lot of ups and downs in where I was going to be, timing and everything, but just trying to have fun with it and make the most of it.”
The WHL could start tomorrow and set off a wild chain reaction in motion. That would also mean a major decision would loom for the Golden Knights, to keep him in Las Vegas, or overcook him for one more “season.” Krebs wouldn’t be able to stay in the AHL due to the NHL’s agreement with the Canadian Hockey League.
But for as long as he plays home games at Orleans Arena, those around him are taking notice.
“Krebsie’s awesome,” said defenseman Ryan Murphy, who scored a goal Monday. “He works his butt off. He loses the puck, he’s hunting it down. I can’t say enough about him. He’s obviously a very skilled hockey player, but he’s responsible and he battles and he’s hungry out there. That’s something that a lot of guys take time to develop when they turn pro, and it seems like he’s got it right off the bat.”
There’s no doubt Krebs is knocking on the door. How long it’ll take before he kicks it down is the question.
“This year, whether it be in junior in a normal year or in the NHL,” Krebs said, “I’m going to take this opportunity to play here or get called up, and use it to the best of my ability.”
Danny Webster is the newest reporter and columnist for Vegas Hockey Now. Follow him on Twitter @DannyWebster21.