Peyton Krebs hasn't skated since that fateful day in June when an errant skate blade turned his year upside down, but lately, he's found it impossible to resist the temptation to pull his skates on and imagine what it will be like.
Krebs, the 18-year-old captain and star centre of the Western Hockey League's Winnipeg Ice, is currently rehabbing from surgery to repair a partially severed Achilles tendon in his left foot.
Comebacks like this can be a lonely experience.
"I kinda lay on my bed with my skates on," said Krebs Thursday afternoon. "I try to visualize myself on the ice all the time. There are studies now where if you vizualize, it's almost equivalent to being on the ice."
Krebs, who reported to the the club's training camp for medicals Wednesday, is still a month or more from returning to the ice and he's found the psychological aspect of coping with the injury has proven to be almost as challenging as the physical recuperation.
"It was definitely something mentally I had to take on," said Krebs, who suffered the injury innocently enough when his leg was nicked by a skate blade during an off-season workout in Calgary. "The first thing I thought of (was), 'How am I going to get through this?' I didn't think, 'Oh, my career's over.' When I first heard the news, I was definitely pretty choked. I don't think it hit me until probably the third day after my surgery...
"Thankfully, I had a really good surgeon — Dr. (Ryan) Martin — and my home doctor were awesome people and they helped me make a seamless recovery. Obviously, I'm still recovering from it but getting better."
The improvements? Well, six weeks ago Krebs dispensed with the walking boot he wore to the stage at the NHL Draft when the Vegas Golden Knights made him the 17th overall choice in the first round.
The only obvious sign of the injury is a small scar on the back of his heel where the repairs were made almost two months ago.
Krebs answers the question about his return timeline like this: "Honestly, it's still a day-by-day thing and week by week. With the Achilles, compared to a broken bone, you don't really have a set timeline. I just try to heal every day and get improvements. Obviously, there are going to be up-and-downs but as I move forward, there'll be maybe a couple of setbacks but I'll punch forward."
Krebs will remain in Winnipeg until Monday before he ships out for Vegas, where he will complete his recovery before being returned to junior. Golden Knights GM Kelly McCrimmon said Krebs will not be returned to junior until the Vegas medical staff clears him for active duty.
Did the injury push Krebs, who was the 10th-rated North American prospect, lower in the draft?
"We did not expect him to be available when we picked," said McCrimmon via telephone. "We felt he would be a top-10 selection based on our final list and there were a lot of good players. So, I sure can't say any of the picks ahead of him were ones that shouldn't have been. It's just the nature of a draft that had pretty good depth and that's how it played out. Whether his injury had any influence I couldn't really say."
The Knights believe Krebs checks all the boxes.
"He's a really intelligent, two-way player — high character," said McCrimmon. "When he has been in his peer group at different (international) events, he's been exceptional. So the Ivan Hlinka-Wayne Gretzky tournament of 2018, I thought he was very good. At the world under-18 championship this past April, he was really, really good on a line with Alex Newhook and Dylan Cozens.
"And with his club team, what's impressive is the role and responsibility that he had as a 17-year-old player who was their captain, their first-line centre and getting the toughest matchups every single night they played."
Once he gets back to Winnipeg, Krebs will have the unique opportunity to go head-to-head with two of his siblings: His 20-year-old brother Dakota is a member of the WHL's Calgary Hitmen while his youngest brother Dru is a 16-year-old blue-line prospect trying out with the Medicine Hat Tigers.
Krebs hasn't given up on his aim to play for Team Canada at the upcoming world under-20 junior championship. Last spring, Krebs had six goals and 10 points in seven games with Team Canada, where he served as captain of the national team, at the under-18 worlds in Sweden.
"I think the world junior (team) is in my sights," he said. "I want to be there."
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.
Updated on Thursday, August 29, 2019 at 7:26 PM CDT: Updates story.
10:56 PM: Fixes typo.