Earlier this preseason, when fans and writers were wondering whether or not the Capitals would have room to let a rookie forward — 19-year-old Tom Wilson — develop at the NHL level, it would have been tough to see Adam Oates’s current fourth line coming.
That line features two players in their first NHL go-round in Wilson and Michael Latta. Despite their inexperience, Oates hasn’t hesitated to sit veterans Eric Fehr and Jay Beagle for what he believes is an increasingly reliable fourth-line combination of Aaron Volpatti, Latta and Wilson.
“They’re all physical, they all complement each other. Lats has done a good job coming up. We’ve got two guys playing in the league for the first time, and they haven’t shown any signs of hesitation, which is really good,” Oates said, though he acknowledged that Latta and Wilson playing against players they’ve never seen does pose a challenge.
“We’ve got some kids playing teams for the first time, players for the first time,” Oates said. “We’ve got guys [we'll face] where you think you understand what a guy does, but until you experience him, you don’t. That’s a fact. That’s where the veterans have to carry the young guys, explain it, and hopefully we do a good job protecting guys.”
The line saw around 10 minutes of ice time or fewer over the past three games and combined for three points in that span.
“As a coach, you want to be able to play them. There’s times in a game when Backy’s tired, Ovi’s tired, Brow’s tired, I need you guys to get a shift now and get some territory for us. In Philly especially and it carried over, they’ve gotten us territory,” Oates said.
“To me, I go to Boston. That [fourth] line, he could play against any one of our lines, he feels. I can’t think of a better feeling for a coach,” Oates said. Volpatti, Latta and Wilson “got us territory and they got us chances. That’s what you want.”