Welcome back. I got a lot of positive feedback to the first post in this series, so I decided to keep it going. One thing I really enjoyed was getting other memories that I had either glossed over or forgotten (Draper's OT goal in Game 2 of '98 was really the only exciting "highlight" from that Finals). Thanks to all those who commented, and I hope you enjoy the rest of the series. Today we will look at the #18 player on the list of Greatest Red Wings of My Time.
Pertinent Stats: 363 GP, 97 G, 133 A, 230 P, +61, 781 PIM
Keith Primeau was the last high draft pick the Red Wings have had, and by "high", I mean top-5. He was drafted third overall by the Wings in 1990, which just happened to be following the last time they missed the playoffs. The Wings had drafted Sergei Federov, Nicklas Lidstrom and Vladimir Konstantinov the year before, and it was believed that Primeau would be the power forward the Wings needed to start their climb towards contention.
I'll be completely honest: I don't remember a ton about Primeau's career as a Red Wing. One thing that I do remember is that he did not start his career off lighting up the scoreboard. He was always a tougher guy, and during those years, the Wings were very much a finesse team. Primeau was expected to come in, score 30-40 goals and throw his body around. The Wings moved him around a lot, and I know that at times he was played on the wing when he was a natural centreman. Once Primeau learned to score with any sort of regularity, then he became a much more important player on the team. His last 3 years in Detroit he was able to score at an almost a point-per-game pace. With Primeau emerging as a dependable offensive player, Bryan Murray and Scotty Bowman were able to use that to their advantage by moving Federov around on different lines and as a winger. Primeau was a key player in the Wings' run to the Finals in 1995, and he was great the next year when the Wings obliterated everyone in the regular season. Unfortunately, he was never a great playoff performer, and his underachieving was one of the reasons why the Wings were never able to win a Cup.
Primeau's time with the Wings will be remembered for 3 very distinct things: his slowness to develop into the type of player the Wings expected him to be when they drafted him 3rd overall; his fight with Bob Probert in January of 1994; and his part in the deal that brought Brendan Shanahan to the Wings.
I vividly remember the fight between Probert and Primeau, because it's not often that fights between teammates is caught on video. It was reported that Primeau was complaining about not getting credit for a point in the previous game, and some of the Wings decided to have the PA announcer announce his point during practice. Primeau did not like this, and went after Probert, who I guess he thought started the whole thing. Ultimately it turned out that it wasn't Probert who was behind it, but I do remember Primeau holding his own in the fight, and that gave me a newfound respect for him. After all, anyone who fought Bob Probert and not only stayed conscious but stayed upright was pretty tough in my books.
Ultimately, Primeau was never destined to be a life-long Red Wing. In 1996 the Wings signed Igor Larionov, and Primeau held out, believing that his ice time was going to be further diminished. Let's face it; by that time, he was going to be behind Yzerman, Federov and now Larionov as centres on the team. He certainly saw the writing on the wall, and the Wings traded him to Hartford to get Brendan Shanahan. We all know how the rest of that season went; the Wings went on to win the Cup, with Shanahan being the missing piece that the Wings had been searching for. To his credit, Primeau had a couple of good years in Hartford/Carolina, but then he ended up in Philadelphia where he forged himself a pretty decent career.
For me, Primeau's importance to the team is a little understated. I find it extremely ironic that the Wings drafted Primeau with high hopes of his becoming the tough, talented forward that would complement the skill of Federov and Yzerman, and in the end he was traded for the guy that became that player for the Wings and got them to the next level. I never disliked Primeau; while he was never my favourite player, he wore the Red and White, and that endeared him to me at least on a very basic level. Unfortunately, he never fulfilled the promise and potential that the Red Wings thought he had, and it took him going to another team to achieve great things. Regardless of his underachievements while in Detroit, he was still a dynamic player, and for this, he earns the spot of #18 on my list of Greatest Red Wings of My Time.