The Canucks maybe have left their “Compete is in our nature” slogan in the past, but they still love hard-working, gritty, competitive players. You can see it in how they extol Zach MacEwen as an exemplar of development with the Utica Comets.
Perhaps this focus on competitiveness blinds the Canucks to players whose hard work shows in different ways. Certainly, an exceptionally-skilled player doesn’t develop that skill without a lot of hard work and a drive to improve, even if that hard work and drive looks a little different from a two-way grinder with a lot less skill.
In an ideal world, you get both in equal measure: exceptional skill combined with a blue-collar work ethic. You see that in someone like Bo Horvat, who works extremely hard and devotes himself to both sides of the ice, but can also pull off a slick toe-drag to score a pretty goal. Sidney Crosby has been described as the most skilled grinder in the league. Patrice Bergeron is a perennial Selke candidate, but also centres one of the best lines in the NHL and regularly scores 30 goals.
Some of the best players in the world make the game look effortless, while others seem to be constantly working their tails off. Both have their virtues, but visible hard work and competitiveness does have a certain appeal. When you get that hard work and skill combined together, you tend to end up with a fan-favourite.
That brings us to Peyton Krebs. When you read scouting reports about Krebs, certain words keep coming up: hard-working, industrious, driven, effort, work ethic, and desire. Those are all pretty intangible words, but with Krebs, they show up in very tangible ways.
Jeremy Davis at NextGen Hockey leans towards analytics to go with the eye test, but he can’t help by lean towards an intangible in his scouting report on Krebs.
Peyton Krebs is a dynamic player with plus-level talent in several different categories, so it might seem a little bit odd to claim that his best attribute is effort, but this claim is simply undeniable. Krebs was once described to me as a player that treats each and every shift as though it’s Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, and there’s no better way that I can think of to describe Krebs’ approach to the game.
Davis goes on to call Krebs “the hardest-working player on the ice,” and that is echoed by other scouting reports. When describing his work ethic, J.D. Burke at Elite Prospects says, “It jumps off of the screen in every viewing.”
And yet, when you look at his numbers, Krebs just isn’t at the level of other top draft-eligible prospects in the WHL. He had 19 goals and 68 points in 64 games last season, a far-cry from Dylan Cozens and his 34 goals and 84 points and also behind Kirby Dach and his 25 goals and 73 points. He also had fewer points than Bowen Byram, expected to be the first defenceman picked in the draft, and far fewer than Brayden Tracey, who isn’t even expected to be a first-round pick.
So why is Krebs consistently ranked in the top half of the first round? None of the publically-available draft rankings have him any lower than 13th, with Future Considerations ranking him highest at fifth overall, ahead of Dach and Cozens.
There’s a simple answer: his team was awful.
The only reason the Kootenay ICE weren’t the worst team in the WHL last season is that the defending champion Swift Current Broncos were monumentally awful, having graduated most of their top players last season and trading away picks and youth on the way to the 2018 WHL Championship.
The ICE won just 13 of their 68 games all season and were outscored 324 to 181. Their starting goaltender had an .878 save percentage. Their longest winning streak was two.
On top of all that, the ICE had to deal with the constant threat of relocation hanging over their heads, a threat that was confirmed in January, when it was announced they would be moving to Winnipeg next season. There was a lot going on surrounding the team that could have pulled focus away from the rink.
The struggles for the ICE have made it damnably difficult for scouts to get a good read on Krebs, particularly since he’s more of a playmaker than a scorer. He’s the type of player that makes everyone around him better, but still needs finishers to put the puck in the back of the net, and he just didn’t have that available to him in Kootenay this past season.
Krebs didn’t have anyone on the ICE that could match his speed, skill, or hockey sense. The next best scorers on the ICE had 16 fewer points, then 27 fewer points, then 38 fewer points. Krebs was the captain of the ICE at 17 and was a leader, both intangibly and tangibly.
When he’s had the chance to play with his peers in international competition, Krebs has excelled. He had 5 points in 5 games at the 2018 Hlinka Gretzky Cup, tied for fifth on Team Canada. He was even unlucky not to have more points, as he created chances for himself and his linemates seemingly at will.
He was even better at the 2019 World Under-18 Championship. Krebs captained the Canadian team and led them in scoring with 6 goals and 10 points, enough to make him the highest-scoring non-American at the tournament.
With Team Canada, Krebs didn’t have to do everything, but with the ICE, Krebs didn’t just drive the bus: he built the bus from spare parts scavenged in a scrapyard, made his own gasoline from crude oil with a DIY refinery, and paved his own dang roads. He was involved in 40% of the ICE goals scored while he was in the lineup, which is more than any other WHL prospect.
Krebs did a bit of everything for the ICE. With his excellent skating, he was the key to the ICE’s transition game, burning through the neutral zone to gain the opposing blue line.
“Krebs is a phenomenal skater, among the best in the WHL,” said Davis in his profile of Krebs for NextGen Hockey. “He’s explosive, agile, and elusive, making separation, between him and defenders effortless.”
Krebs uses that speed at both ends of the ice, chasing down pucks and closing gaps in the defensive zone and driving past defencemen and creating chaos in the offensive zone. He has a knack for drawing in opposing players to open up passing lanes, then exploiting those lanes with sneaky passes.
Krebs is a creative playmaker, using his mind, vision, and passing in concert to set up teammates for great chances. When he gets the chance to shoot himself, the puck is off his stick in a hurry with a lot of accuracy, with Wheeler highlighting his “quick, no-drawback, low-kick release in transition.” Davis points to his slap shot and backhand as dangerous weapons as well.
On top of that, Krebs is a superb stickhandler, challenging defenders with a diverse display of dangles, most of which he performs at top speed.
As further evidence of his do-everything nature, Krebs can play at both centre and on the wing and on both special teams. He likely projects as a left wing in the NHL, but that versatility will make him a coach’s best friend.
Put it all together and there’s hardly a flaw to be found. He has every possible tool in his toolbox and the hockey IQ to put those tools to good use.
If Krebs reaches the Canucks at tenth overall, it’s hard to argue against selecting him. His numbers in Kootenay might give you pause — his minus-50 is particularly ugly looking — but they’re far more reflective of the quality of his team than his qualities as a player.
Since he projects as a top-six left winger, he even fits a major area of need for the Canucks. It’s easy to imagine him retrieving pucks with his speed and setting up the likes of Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser, or winding up on a puck-possessing two-way second line alongside Bo Horvat. In case of injuries, Krebs could slide in at centre.
On a team largely devoid of creative playmakers, adding one with as much drive and grit as Krebs would make so much sense for the Canucks.