The Buffalo Sabres lit the hockey world on fire in November 2021 with one of the biggest trades in the history of the game, sending superstar Jack Eichel to the Vegas Golden Knights. The centerpiece of the return package was Peyton Krebs, the Golden Knights’ top prospect. Fresh off a stellar junior career with the Winnipeg ICE of the Western Hockey League (WHL), Krebs was eager to succeed with the Sabres from the moment he arrived.
Though just 20 years old at the time, Krebs found himself with the Sabres on a full-time basis far quicker than either side likely thought they would. It seemed that it was far too soon for him to join the team permanently, but he performed very well in the spot he was thrust into and turned many heads in the process (from “Peyton Krebs right at home with Sabres following life-changing trade”, The Buffalo News, 5/12/22).
Krebs Might Not Have Been Completely NHL Ready
The problem with Krebs for the Sabres fans wanting to see an immediate return in the trade was his lack of professional experience. The 17th overall selection of the 2019 NHL Entry Draft was still breaking into the ranks at the time of his acquisition, having played just 13 total games with the Golden Knights and seven with the American Hockey League’s (AHL) Henderson Silver Knights. As a result, the Sabres sent him to their own AHL affiliate upon his arrival, which was the only logical move at the time. Krebs excelled with the Rochester Americans, recording 15 points in 18 games.
Though Krebs’ output in such a short span was impressive, the Sabres more than likely intended to keep him with Rochester for a longer stretch. However, the team received numerous Christmas presents from the injury bug and it necessitated his call-up. He ended up debuting with his new team on Dec. 29 and remained for the duration of the season.
Given Krebs’ limited professional service, it’s safe to assume that nobody quite knew what to expect on his arrival. But regardless of what the expectations were, he went beyond them. In what turned out to be a 57-game rookie season (nine with Vegas, 48 with Buffalo), he posted seven goals and 15 assists for 22 points (all with Buffalo).
Can You Feel It, Mr. Krebs?
The fact that Krebs wasn’t taken until the 17th pick of the 2019 Draft is a testament to how stacked that year’s class was. Despite his somewhat small physique, the Calgary native already displays passing and vision that show he has the tools to be an elite playmaker down the line and has drawn comparisons to Ryan O’Reilly. He also has a remarkable poise that would be expected from a far more experienced player and it helped him quickly establish himself in the Sabres’ lineup when he scored his first two NHL goals on Jan. 22 vs. the Philadelphia Flyers.
It was far from Krebs’ only highlight of the season, however. The centerman tallied twice again in the Heritage Classic to propel the Sabres past the Toronto Maple Leafs to their first-ever outdoor victory, and also scored against his former team in Eichel’s raucous return to Buffalo. If anything, it proves that he has a knack for the big moments, a quality not many Sabres players have possessed in recent memory.
Final Assessment on Krebs
While Krebs is unquestionably destined for greatness, Sabres fans shouldn’t anoint him just yet. He’s only 21 years old with plenty still to learn and he will have his growing pains. His defensive play needs improvement after posting a minus-26 rating and he also needs to find a way to stay out of the box after being penalized 11 times on the season.
That being said, Krebs still very much exceeded expectations in 2021-22 and showed that he could potentially be a number one center in the future. The Sabres and their fans will just have to be patient with him and it wouldn’t be entirely far-fetched to see him back in the AHL next season if the continued time there would benefit him, especially considering the team sent him back for the Americans’ playoff run after the NHL season ended. With still two seasons remaining on his entry level contact, he could be wearing Rochester’s jersey in the fall and Sabres fans will have be to okay with that.
Buffalo has a superstar in the making on its hands and can’t afford to damage Krebs’ development as it has done with so many other players in recent history. If the team can stay the course with him, he will be a major asset for the Sabres and will strike fear in opposing lineups on a nightly basis in the future.
Krebs’ Grade for 2021-22: B+
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