An oft-forgotten fact about the polarizing trade that sent forward prospect Filip Forsberg, the first of the Washington Capitals' two first-round picks in the 2012 NHL Draft, to the Nashville Predators for veteran forward Martin Erat in early April is that there was one more player involved.
The Capitals also received Michael Latta, a gritty center who had established himself as an AHL regular with the Milwaukee Admirals, in that deadline day deal, and he was far from a throw-in as general manager George McPhee insisted that he was part of the package.
“He’s a gritty kid who plays the game hard,” McPhee said in April . “I think he’ll be a good fit for us in the near future.”
The "near future" could come as early as next season. Latta attended the first day of Washington's annual development camp Monday to take part in the on-ice testing and acclimate himself to his new surroundings. McPhee said Monday that he expects the 22-year-old to challenge for a roster spot come September.
“I want to play in the NHL,” Latta added. “Hoping I come to camp I give myself the best chance to make an impression, leave an impression and stick with the club.”
In 118 regular-season games for the Admirals between 2011-13, Latta scored 23 goals, assisted on 39 others and racked up 284 penalty minutes. Once he joined the Capitals' AHL affiliate in Hershey, Latta scored three goals and added three assists in 14 combined regular-season and postseason games while centering the third line in a shutdown role.
Coincidentally, there might be an opening for a shutdown forward in the Capitals' bottom six with the departure of Matt Hendricks, who signed with the Predators last week. It is unlikely that Latta will crack Washington's opening night roster, but at the very least, he can set himself up as a reliable call-up.
“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."
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