“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
Michael Latta (upper body)
John Carlson (lower-body)
Brooks Orpik (lower-body)
Jay Beagle (hand)