Michael Latta was an overshadowed part of the Capitals’ deadline-day trade that brought Martin Erat to Washington last spring. As he prepares for his first full season in the organization, the young forward knows there’s an opportunity for him with the Capitals especially after Matt Hendricks left as a free agent.
“As a young, right-handed centerman that kind of plays a role similar to Hendricks,” Latta said, “I see him leave and I’m sure Caps fans are upset and I heard nothing but good things about him, but he leaves and maybe that opens up a spot for me. You never know. It’s nice for myself, personally and selfishly that he’s gone, so we’ll see. Hopefully I can do what he did and earn a spot here.
“I want to play in the NHL,” Latta said. “Hoping I come to camp I give myself the best chance to make an impression, leave an impression and stick with the club.”
Having already established himself as an AHL regular in the past two seasons Latta, 22, ordinarily wouldn’t have been invited to development camp this week in Arlington. Given that he’s new to the organization, though, General Manager George McPhee wanted him to attend Monday so he could go through the on-ice testing and familiarize himself with the facilities and arena.
He’s had an opportunity to work with Coach Adam Oates a bit and get to know the system and is excited about the potential to learn more about how to develop as a player.
“It’s interesting a lot of little things that Coach Oates does, really minor things that he changes that make so much sense that no one else seems to grasp,” Latta said. “It’s really interesting. I learned a lot of little, new things that maybe I wouldn’t have picked up with any organization. I’m happy to be here. I like the way they play, it’s kind of innovative and it’s a new style of hockey.”
Latta appeared in 14 games (regular season and playoffs) with the Hershey Bears last year after the trade, recording three goals and three assists in that span. He centered the Bears’ third line, serving a shut-down role that he hopes to have in the NHL one day. But the core foundation of Latta’s game is something that most teams can’t have enough of – grit and hard work.
Asking Latta to step into the Capitals’ roster and take on all the duties Hendricks had immediately isn’t realistic, but the Toronto native will have a chance in September to show whether he’s ready to make the jump. At the very least, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him spend some time with the Capitals as a call up next season.
“He’s a pretty frisky guy,” McPhee said. “Plays the game real hard and our scouts have liked the way he’s played over the last couple of seasons. So he’s going to get a good look.”