Latta poses with his milestone puck. (Photo credit: Patrick McDermott)
The Washington Capitals have had a wealth of fourth line enforcers over the last decade: Stephen Peat, Donald Brashear, Matt Bradley, and even Matt Hendricks. But don’t lump center Michael Latta, the other guy in the Filip Forsberg/Martin Erat trade, into that category.
Over the first month of the season, Latta has been playing some of the most inspired hockey of his career. And it’s because he’s doing a little bit of everything well.
Latta is irritating to play against. I’d even call him a pest. He constantly runs his mouth on the ice (like Tom Wilson) and is a physical, hard-hitting player. He sometimes plays on the edge, delivering cheap shots behind the play, but rarely is a penalty called on him. Usually he draws retaliatory penalties from the guy he’s terrorizing. And if Latta’s challenged to fight, he can back it up.
None of that is too uncommon, but Latta also has some offensive talent. He had 38 points in 76 games between AHL Milwaukee and Hershey last year. This season, he has been Hershey’s second leading scorer before getting called up to the Capitals. He is blossoming as a player, translating the finishing ability he’s been developing in Hershey into his first NHL point: a beautiful assist on John Carlson’s goal.
When the Martin Erat trade happened last year at the trade deadline, many people (including me) criticized George McPhee for trading away the team’s second best prospect for an aging forward and a nobody. Latta is belying that descriptor, and he may yet have a long career in the NHL– just like Forsberg.
Take a look at Latta’s week and you’ll see why I’m excited.