Wayne Primeau understood why he didn't receive much playing time in his first two seasons. He bought into the notion that he needed more time to grow into his big body and allow his game to develop with experience. Back then, it made sense.
But this is his third season with the Buffalo Sabres and the former No. 1 pick is still riding the bench on the fourth line. And with all that time to think, the only thing that developed in Primeau's game is a cycle of mind playing tricks on the body and vice-versa.
Sitting six minutes or more between shifts, his legs become stiff. By the time he gets loose, it's time to come off the ice again and sit for another six minutes. Then his legs become stiff. He becomes more insecure by watching, while wondering when he will have another chance to prove himself.
"It's been three years now, and it's getting to be the same old routine," Primeau said after practice Sunday at Marine Midland Arena. "You kind of start wondering about it. You start doubting yourself and thinking, 'Why did I work so hard during the summer to sit on the fourth line and get limited shifts and spot duty?' It's really frustrating because I know I can play."
Primeau, 22, has heard plenty about the importance of patience in this league. Even a linesman, after Primeau argued a call against the New York Rangers last season, told the forward to relax and enjoy playing in the NHL for the next 20 years.
That's how people have viewed Primeau since he was taken by the Sabres 17th overall in the 1994 draft. But before he becomes a fixture, he needs to get through the early years. It took Primeau's brother, Keith, five seasons in the NHL before he became a dominant forward.
Keith, who has been hampered by injuries this season with Carolina, has developed into an all-star. People are willing to wait for Wayne to catch up, but through nine games this season with Buffalo, he has one goal and no assists.
"He went through some tough times when he was in Detroit," Primeau said. "But I'm sick of people comparing me to him and saying, 'He went through that, so you're going to have to go through it.' People say I'm going to be a good player down the road. I don't want that. I want it now."
Primeau played 8 minutes, 13 seconds in Saturday's 2-1 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs. Sabres coach Lindy Ruff considered putting Primeau on a line with Michael Peca and Vaclav Varada going into the weekend, but Primeau played with Derek Plante and Rob Ray on Friday and Saturday in his first two games since sustaining a bruised shoulder. He has not taken his dilemma to Ruff -- yet.
"We've had conversations in the past," he said. "Usually, it's the same old story. I'm not saying that if I get tons of ice time, I'm going to score 40 or 50 goals. But I feel I can help out the team."
Primeau has eight shots on goal and one penalty this season, so he has hardly been a factor. The only two regular forwards with fewer shots are Rob Ray and Paul Kruse, and they contribute with their aggressive styles.
How can Ruff award more ice time to Primeau when the forward has done so little? How can Primeau be expected to do more with so little ice time? One way is for Primeau to produce with the few shifts he plays.
"You have to be deserving of that (ice) time," Ruff said. "I'd like to see him put a little bite in his game. That part hasn't been there. We need him to antagonize and be a little bit of a burr in the other team's side.
" 'Patience' is the key word in the whole scenario. We really like his skating. Everything has to come together at one time, but it's not all there right now. If he shows an aggressive side and starts scoring a bit, his ice time will increase."
The frustrating part for Primeau is that he began making an impact late last season. He scored four of his six goals during a 17-game stretch starting in March. He was a force on the power play after Ruff inserted Primeau's 6-foot-3, 220-pound frame in front of the net and told him to return black and blue.
Many people, including Primeau, expected more of the same this year. He spent the summer getting in shape with his brother. Keith was maintaining the conditioning needed to play 20-plus minutes a game. Wayne decreased his body fat and increased his strength in preparation for more ice time.
The funny thing is that he figured he would play his way into even better shape when the season began last month. Unfortunately, he's missing a key word in that theory: Play.
"The less ice time you get, the more you think," he said. "It's not a good situation when you're out there. Your whole positive attitude and confidence level is almost shot."