Photo: Doug Pensinger
After spending most of 2013-14 with the AHL’s Hershey Bears, Capitals’ center prospect Michael Latta is now poised to gain a full-time roster spot in Washington next season. Acquired at the 2013 trade deadline in the infamous Forsberg-Erat trade, Latta had one goal and four points in 17 NHL games last season but left a good impression, winning 52.2% of his face-offs and playing an effective, physical game on the fourth line. Latta was one of the team’s best players at drawing penalties, leading the team in penalty differential.
After signing a two-year contract on July 1st, Latta is practically guaranteed a roster spot in the NHL next season.
Latta signed his entry-level deal as a 19-year-old. He now has four years of pro experience, meaning he’s automatically waiver-eligible. His entry-level contract slid one year when Latta spent a season between the OHL’s Guelph Storm and the AHL’s Milwaukee Admirals (meaning his first pro deal ran essentially for four years instead of three). That first season still counts as pro experience for the purposes of waiver eligibility.
Latta was highly regarded by Washington organization’s scouts even before he was acquired. “He’s a pretty frisky guy,” McPhee said a year ago to The Washington Post’s Katie Carrera. “[He] plays the game real hard and our scouts have liked the way he’s played over the last couple of seasons. So he’s going to get a good look.”
Now that former head of pro scouting Brian MacLellan runs the show as GM and director of amateur scouting Ross Mahoney is his assistant, it’s tough to imagine Washington letting the feisty forward hazarded by waivers.
Latta’s new contract is a one-way deal. He’ll be paid the same regardless of whether he plays in the NHL or in the AHL. That may indicate that management does not expect him to be sent down next season.
Latta is one of four prospects in Washington’s farm whose waiver status changed this year. The Caps have a tough decision to make regarding right winger Garrett Mitchell, still recuperating from shoulder surgery, defenseman Tomas Kundratek, who missed most of the season as well, and blueliner Cameron Schilling, who doesn’t appear likely to be claimed by an NHL team if exposed to waivers.
The other prospects who travelled between Washington and Hershey last season are all exempt from waivers: Nate Schmidt hasn’t amassed enough pro experience yet, while Chris Brown, Connor Carrick, Patrick Wey, and Philipp Grubauer are still on their entry-level contracts.