While there may have been outside pressures to go a different route, there was never a doubt in the mind of Peyton Krebs — 2016 first-overall pick of the Kootenay Ice — as to where he wanted to go with his hockey career.
Tuesday evening, Krebs and the Kootenay Ice put ink to paper as the 15-year-old budding star signed a standard player agreement, ensuring he will one day suit up in the Western Hockey League with the Ice.
“It feels pretty good, obviously,” Krebs said over the phone from Okotoks Wednesday afternoon. “Committing to the Kootenay Ice was something I wanted to do right from getting drafted first overall. I couldn’t be happier with my decision. I’m very excited to have the secondary schooling if hockey doesn’t work out. I’m ready to go.
“The WHL has been the thing that everyone wants to get to. When I was younger, I watched [Calgary] Hitmen games and that was the thing I wanted to do. Obviously there are some outside pressures to not go the WHL route, but the WHL was the route I wanted to go and I’m glad I could sign that contract [Tuesday] night.”
Krebs, a 15-year-old native of Okotoks, Alta., lit up the Alberta Major Bantam Hockey League (AMBHL) in 2015-16, tallying 46 goals and 102 points in only 27 games as a member of the Rocky Mountain Raiders.
From there, the Ice tabbed him with the team’s first-overall selection at the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft, making him the club’s top pick since Jarret Stoll was taken first overall at the 1997 WHL Bantam Draft.
“It’s certainly nice to have that done and know that the real work will start now from our end, as far as preparing to have him in and from his end as far as preparing to be a Western Hockey Leaguer,” said Luke Pierce, head coach of the Kootenay Ice, Wednesday morning.
Standing 5-foot-11 and weighing in at 164 pounds, Krebs is only the third first-overall pick in Kootenay Ice franchise history, following in the footsteps of Stoll and defenceman Steve McCarthy (1996).
“He’s an all-around player, there’s no question I think he’s a franchise guy that’s going to make people around him better,” Pierce said. “His determination will make him a leader in our league and on our team probably at a fairly young age. The biggest thing will be trying to temper the expectation for him. He puts a lot of pressure on himself. We want to help surround him and make sure he feels comfortable.
“He’s a dynamic guy and I think as he grows and gets even more confidence with his body, he’ll be even that more dominant.”
As much as they could use an elite talent of Krebs’ ilk right now after a challenging 2015-16 campaign, Pierce and the Ice won’t see their future star on a full-time basis until the 2017-18 season at the earliest, when he becomes eligible for regular WHL duty.
“We are very happy to welcome Peyton Krebs and his family to the Kootenay Ice and the Western Hockey League,” said Jeff Chynoweth, president and general manager, in a team release. “As we continue building for the future, Peyton will be a key member of our 2000- and 2001-born prospect group.
“He is a very dynamic player and we look forward to watching him develop within our organization.”
Chynoweth visited Krebs at his home in Okotoks Tuesday evening to hand deliver the youngsters WHL standard player agreement and take the opportunity to get to know his future franchise cornerstone.
“It was really just getting to know [Chynoweth] and getting to know the mentality of the Kootenay Ice,” Krebs said of his face-to-face with the Ice president and general manager. “[The mentality] is hard-working and never wanting to lose. That’s the biggest thing for me. You want to earn everything you get and that’s huge for him. The little details matter.”
Pierce was privy to that winning attitude as he witnessed Krebs’ blue-chip talent first-hand at the 2016 Alberta Cup in Canmore, Alta., this past spring and is already eager to begin working to help prepare the youngster for his future in the WHL, starting with training camp in August.
“Once we have him in at camp, it will be a real good assessment of his game and where he fits and try to help him throughout the year as far as how his season’s going,” Pierce said. “We certainly hope to see him and have him in some games. As a coach, that would be my hope. The rest of that will be up to Jeff [Chynoweth] and I’m sure to Peyton, but I’d love to see him in games and try to help him along a little quicker.”
The signing of Krebs should be reason to celebrate for Kootenay Ice fans.
The last time the club had a first-round pick, it was defenceman Griffin Mendel hearing his name called at 11th overall in 2014, only to spurn the Ice and WHL in favour of the NCAA’s University of Denver.
The Ice did not have a first-round pick in 2015 while 2013 first-round pick Jared Legien (ninth overall) cracked the roster as a 17-year-old, posting four goals and eight points in 69 games through the 2015-16 campaign.
“Peyton, not only is he a building block, he’s going to be a top-line forward,” said Garnet Kazuik, director of scouting for the Kootenay Ice, after selecting Krebs at the bantam draft.
“His character is second to none. He comes from a phenomenal family… I can’t say enough about that and how important it will be for our leadership group down the road.”
Krebs helped guide his Raiders to a silver-medal performance at the Western Canadian Bantam Championships and was named the AMBHL South Division’s Most Valuable Player and Outstanding Forward for the 2015-16 season.
During his first year of bantam, Krebs also helped boost the Raiders to an AMBHL championship in 2014-15.
While he is unable to play full-time in the WHL come 2016-17, Krebs is eligible to play up to five games as a 15-year-old affiliate and will most definitely be at Kootenay Ice training camp come August. With all that in mind, he has already set to preparing himself to make a strong first impression with Chynoweth, Pierce and the rest of the staff.
“It’s the same as every year — going to the gym every day and trying to get one-per-cent better, whether that’s being a better guy off the ice or getting my strength up to par and getting my skills better,” Krebs said. “I just do the same thing every year — get better. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing, you always want to try to get better.”
The Ice won the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft Lottery and the right to select Krebs after going 12-53-7-0, finishing in the WHL cellar and missing out on the post-season for the first time since 1997-98. The 12 wins represented the lowest total in franchise history and the accompanying 31 points rank as the second-lowest amount amassed in a single season.