Michael Latta was the “other” piece in the controversial trade that brought Martin Erat to Washington in return for top prospect Filip Forsberg.
Many fans hated the young-for-old deal. But the Capitals did receive a young player in return in the gritty, 22-year-old center whom general manager George McPhee likes because he’s difficult to play against. And the Caps in recent years have clearly been trying to add players like that. Forsberg’s fellow 2012 first-round draft pick Tom Wilson – all 6-foot-4, 217 pounds of him - is another example.
But will Latta have a legitimate shot to make the roster out of training camp? Maybe. But would that be the best use of his talents right off the bat? Latta would have to push someone like Jay Beagle to the wing. It’s unlikely he’s going to take over for third-line center Mathieu Perreault – let alone Brooks Laich or Nicklas Backstrom.
But it would probably serve Washington well to use a journeyman veteran to fill out the roster and let Latta play significant minutes at AHL Hershey. Then if injuries strike during the season – they always do – he can serve as a recall and help stabilize the lineup. It wouldn’t be a shock to see Latta play 25 or 30 games in the NHL this season, an up-and-down apprenticeship many of his teammates, including Perreault, have gone through before.
Erat, soon to be 32, may not be in Washington past the next two years when his contract expires. That made dealing Forsberg painful, even if the team had put Wilson ahead of him on the depth chart at right wing. But Latta gives the Caps a chance to win the trade outright provided Forsberg doesn’t become a star player. It’s the risk they took. But they like Latta and think he can become an NHL regular.
Last year splitting time between Milwaukee and Hershey, Latta had 10 goals and 28 assists in 76 games. He added two more goals and an assist in the first round of the Calder Cup playoffs. It was a promising start. Is he ready to build on that at the highest level?