As part of our summer countdown series, CSNwashington.com Capitals Insider Chuck Gormley breaks down his Top 25 impact players for the Washington Capitals’ upcoming 2014-15 season.
No. 22: Michael Latta, Center
2014-15 NHL Salary: $575,000 [$575,000 cap hit]
2013-14 stats: 17 games, 1 goal, 3 assists, 4 points, even, 12 penalty minutes, 7:42 ice time
Projected 2014-15 stats: 38 games, 6 goals, 8 assists, 14 points, plus-4, 58 penalty minutes
Analysis: At 23, this could be a make-or-break season for Latta, the “other” piece of the ill-fated Filip Forsberg-for-Marty Erat deal prior to the 2013 NHL trade deadline. Capitals coach Barry Trotz has some familiarity with Latta, who spent parts of three seasons with Nashville’s AHL affiliate Milwaukee Admirals before getting traded to the Caps. Latta did not, however, play an NHL game under Trotz. It’s important to note that Latta is entering the first year of a two-year, one-way contract that pays him $575,000 whether he plays in the NHL or AHL. Last season was a trying one for Latta, who played in 17 of the Caps’ first 33 games before a lower body injury sidelined him and eventually led to a return to Hershey, where he recorded 14 goals, 20 assists, 134 penalty minutes and was a plus-14 in 52 games. Latta’s ability to play a strong and gritty two-way game will be appealing to Trotz, especially if the Caps enter the season with their current group of centers [Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Brooks Laich, Marcus Johansson, Jay Beagle]. Latta is strong in the faceoff dot, ranking second among Caps centers last season with a 52.2 percentage, and at 6-foot, 209 pounds he’s a competent fighter against other NHL middleweights. Essentially, if Latta outplays Jay Beagle, he could win the job of fourth-line center.