There were moments during the whirlwind six months, between his arrival in Rochester to his final shift of the Sabers’ season, when Peyton Krebs wondered how his life changed so much in such little time.
“I’ll be honest, there were some times when I was nervous,” he shared with reporters. “I was,‘ Holy, what’s going on? I’m in Buffalo, New York. ‘ You never thought you’d be here, whatever, four years ago. It was a lot of change, but I did my best to embrace that, and I absolutely loved it. ”
On balance, a kid out of college should be eager to come to the Sabers now. As an organization, they’re going young. Coach Don Granato is great with prospects and he and his staff have nailed individual skill development.
Even through the shock, Krebs ’vision for his future now mirrors the life of many former Sabers who lifted the franchise to prominence. The frigid temperatures in the winter will allow Krebs to fulfill his dream of having a backyard rink on which his future children can skate and develop a love for the game, as he did outdoors as a kid.
He beams when detailing his and his teammates’ desire to draw sellout crowds to KeyBank Center. And their shared plan to become a consistent winner.
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Krebs feels at home in Buffalo. Even the sight of trees and snow brought joy to the 21-year-old forward this winter. Life in Western New York resembles that in his hometown of Calgary. The two hockey hotbeds offer what Vegas could not.
Seemingly every Sabers player on the roster, no matter their experience, improved under Granato and his staff.
“Coming to Buffalo, it was a breath of fresh air,” he added. “It felt more like home.”
But Krebs had already begun putting down roots out West when on Nov. 4 he learned what had been rumored for months. His time with the Vegas Golden Knights was over. Krebs, less than three years removed from his 17th overall selection at the 2019 draft, was traded to Buffalo along with Alex Tuch and two draft choices for Jack Eichel.
Krebs earned a full-time spot with the Sabers and skated in 48 games following the life-changing move. He authored a few marquee moments during their late-season turnaround, scoring against his former team in Buffalo to spoil Eichel’s return and delivering two goals outdoors at the Heritage Classic in Hamilton, Ontario.
Now, Krebs is tasked with helping the Rochester Americans in the Calder Cup playoffs, where they’ve advanced to the best-of-five second round. The Amerks trail in the series 1-0 and Game 2 is 7 pm Saturday at Utica.
“I think there were ups and downs, for sure,” he said. “Obviously, I try to be as hardworking and loyal as I can. Getting traded definitely was like, ‘Whoa.’ You don’t expect that. You’re not really sure how it’s going to go into a new organization. You’re comfortable somewhere, coming (somewhere) new. For me, I just tried to embrace it as much as possible, be a good person, meet everyone that I could in the organization and just embrace that and use my hard work and my foundation to lead me. ”
Empowered by coaches and teammates this season, Dahlin flourished. He’s now a franchise cornerstone and regarded as one of the league’s top young defenseman. His ascent this season included a spot in the NHL All-Star Game, where he saw that he belonged and the league’s best heaped praise upon him.
Few introductions were needed when Krebs returned to the Amerks ahead of their first-round play-in series. He played 18 games in Rochester immediately following the trade, a move that likely helped alleviate the pressure of being acquired for the Sabers’ former captain.
Krebs developed friendships and on-ice chemistry with top prospects Jack Quinn and JJ Peterka, who are a significant part of the Sabers’ plan. And the assignment gave Krebs time to develop against difficult competition. He appeared in only seven games with Vegas’ AHL affiliate following his selection in 2019. He also got 13 games with the Golden Knights, but Sabers management had no interest rushing him to Buffalo.
Between Krebs ’promotion in late December and the season finale April 29, Krebs experienced triumph and difficult lessons. He switched between center and wing upon Casey Mittelstadt’s return to the lineup. Some cross-ice or behind-the-back passes that worked in junior hockey led to turnovers in the NHL. On the road, Krebs had to face top lines and experienced the grind of traveling during an 82-game season. Through it all, he showed why he was considered a sure-fire top-10 draft choice before he tore an Achilles tendon in June 2019.
“Krebsy is an elite competitor,” Rochester coach Seth Appert said. “He’s just got a really high motor and a high want to be great and a high want to be on the puck and compete on the puck, mixed with high-end vision and hockey IQ. When you combine those things together, the potential is limitless for what you can grow into as a player because he has the compete and he has the hockey intelligence. The rest of it will come with time because those two things are so ingrained in who he is as a player. ”
Krebs’ first season with the Sabers included seven goals, 22 points and 46 shots on goal while averaging 14:45 of ice time across 48 games. A pass-first natural center by nature, Krebs, like many young players at the position, learned what happens when you overpass instead of taking advantage of an opportunity to shoot.
Adams, the Sabers ’general manager, learned through the NHL Draft Lottery on Tuesday night that the franchise will pick ninth when the first round of the annual entry draft is held July 7 in Montreal.
But he used his time in Buffalo to build on what makes him a dynamic forward. He was relentless when pursuing the puck on the forecheck and backcheck, traits that should lead to success under coach Don Granato. Krebs ‘vision and ability to handle pressure sparked the Sabers’ second power-play unit, helping the team rank first in the NHL on the man advantage from March 27 until season’s end.
Krebs will need to hone his game defensively, another natural step in a young center’s adjustment to NHL competition, and he’ll enter the summer with invaluable experience to lean on as he prepares for his first full season with the Sabers. His play, combined with that of Tuch, changed the outlook for a franchise that was in a stalemate with Eichel for months leading up to the trade.
“I’ve said this to Alex, I think he’s still scratching the surface of what he can do as a hockey player,” Sabers general manager Kevyn Adams said. “I think he has another level. And Peyton’s young. In my opinion, he did a great job for us. But he’s learning from all these experiences. He’s processing what it’s about to play in this league. And, you know, he’s young, but he’s just hungry to get better.
“So, man, it’s exciting as I think back on it.”
The return to Rochester has come with a move back to center. There’s also an adjustment needed when competing in the American Hockey League, which is more chaotic and includes a different kind of physical play. Krebs didn’t need long to make an impact.
In a disappointing 6-3 loss to the Utica Comets in Tuesday’s opener of the best-of-five North Division semifinals, Arttu Ruotsalainen scored two slick goals and was easily Rochester’s most dangerous offensive player.
He had three assists in the Amerks’ sweep of Belleville, including two in the thrilling come-from-behind Game 1 win. This isn’t the time for Krebs to work on areas that will make him a better NHLer. He’ll do that this summer. After the playoff run, which already includes Rochester’s first series win since 2005, he plans to reflect. Then, he’ll get back to work with a clear vision for what he and the Sabers want to accomplish.
“I think being in Buffalo, they’ve been here however many years, they’ve got that strong fanbase and we’re excited to see what we can do and allow them to be excited about coming to the Sabers game every day,” Krebs said. “We’re excited as a group that we have next year to be a Saber every day and that’s exciting.”