Michael Latta grew up admiring Mike Richards, the center who was a junior hockey star in Latta’s hometown of Kitchener, Ontario. He followed his career with the Philadelphia Flyers and then with the Los Angeles Kings, where he won two Stanley Cups.

After the Capitals signed Richards last week, the two now share the same dressing room with the Washington Capitals, and Coach Barry Trotz has said that when Richards gets into the lineup — the plan being sometime before the all-star break at the end of the month — he will be the team’s fourth-line center. Latta has occupied that role for most of the season.

“He’s a hero [in Kitchener] and my favorite player growing up,” Latta said. “I look at it as a guy that I can really learn from and just kind of watch the way he carries himself and stuff. He’s a good guy to look up to and really just learn a lot from. You never know. I’m sure he’s going to be great for us when he gets in, and maybe I’ll play the wing now. I’m not looking at him as competition or whatever. It is what it is, and I’ve just got to find my role.”

Latta, who’s a restricted free agent at the end of the season, is having his best season, with three goals and three assists in 28 games, already matching his point total from all of last season. Of Capitals who have taken at least 150 faceoffs this season, Latta and Jay Beagle are the only ones who’ve won more than 50 percent . They’re also the only Capitals who are right-handed draws and consistently take faceoffs, and with Beagle on injured reserve after hand surgery, the faceoff reliability could help Latta remain in the lineup.

But the chances of Latta staying at center appear slim, which could be why Trotz has started to play him at wing more recently with Zach Sill centering the fourth line. After Beagle’s injury, Marcus Johansson was moved from second-line left wing to third-line center, and he’s shined there. On Wednesday, Trotz said that if Johansson continues to play well on the third line, he’ll stay there even when the entire forward corps is healthy.

Even if Johansson were moved back to wing, Beagle would figure to be ahead of Latta in the pecking order to play center.

“He’s a guy that, for me, he can either play center or he can play the wing,” Trotz said of Latta. “I’m probably going to put him on the wing a little bit here eventually and just try to set up long-term. We’ve got Beagle eventually coming back and we get Mike in here and obviously, JoJo is doing really good in the middle, too. We’ll just sort of let it play out, but having multiple centermen is a good thing because they can fill in at center ice, but you can also put them on the wing and they can be pretty effective there.”

Said Latta: “You never know what happens at the trade deadline or what not, but I thought I was playing really well until my injury in Buffalo. I thought I’ve maybe struggled a bit since I got back, just battling through injuries and what not. But I thought I’m having a good year, and I’m confident in myself. I think I can help the team out.

“Maybe we get a chance to play together, me and Richie, and that’s a great guy to play with. That would be good.”

Latta’s arm injury is still nagging, and while Trotz said Latta is mostly healthy, he decided to be cautious and keep him out of the lineup for one more game. Here’s how the Capitals’ lineup is expected to look on Thursday night against Vancouver:


Alex Ovechkin-Nicklas Backstrom-T.J. Oshie

Andre Burakovsky-Evgeny Kuznetsov-Justin Williams

Jason Chimera-Marcus Johansson-Tom Wilson

Brooks Laich-Zach Sill-Stanislav Galiev


Karl Alzner-Matt Niskanen

Dmitry Orlov-Nate Schmidt

Aaron Ness-Taylor Chorney


Braden Holtby

Philipp Grubauer


Michael Latta (upper body)

Mike Richards

Injured Reserve

John Carlson (lower-body)

Brooks Orpik (lower-body)

Jay Beagle (hand)