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Guelph's Latta trying to stay on right side of the line

Tuesday, 03.31.2009 / 10:05 AM / 2009 NHL Entry Draft

By Adam Kimelman - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

No matter your line of work, being told your job is being moved to a new city can be tough.

Whether you're a salesman, a stockbroker or a hockey player, forced movement can upend what had been a fairly solid living situation.

Getting traded is part of the hockey business, and it's a business some have to learn at a younger age than others.

Guelph Storm forward Michael Latta certainly fits that bill. The 17-year-old center was dealt by the Ottawa 67s to the Storm on Nov. 25.

"It was tough going from Ottawa, where I played with tons of my best buddies, to go meet 22 new buddies the next day," Latta told NHL.com. "It was really hard the first few weeks. You're not really close with anyone yet (but) it's getting easier every day. It's been a few months now and I've gotten close with a bunch of guys. There's people to look up too, a good group here.

"It's mixed emotions. I'm going five hours closer to home but I'm leaving 20 of my closest friends that I've played with the last year and a half. It's difficult, but I think it worked out for the best."

The scouts certainly seem to agree, as Latta was ranked No. 42 among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting in its midterm rankings for the 2009 Entry Draft.

The 5-foot-11, 200-pound sparkplug of a playmaker had 22 goals and 57 points in 65 games this season, and had 2 assists in four games in the Storm's first-round playoff loss to Saginaw.

"Michael has shown good playmaking ability and he sees the ice well," said Central Scouting's Chris Edwards. "He moves the puck well."

Latta compares his game to Steve Downie and Jarome Iginla -- two offensive-minded forwards who bring a strong forecheck and like to play with an edge.

"I think he brings an element to our team that we don't currently have," Guelph coach Jason Brooks said. "We have guys who play with an edge and we have guys that can create chances and score goals for us, but Latta is both at the same time and we needed that."

Downie and Iginla may play a similar physical style, but they register at different ends of the hockey spectrum. Iginla is a multi-time NHL All-Star considered one of the game's elite players. Downie has gained more notoriety for his off-ice antics and on-ice suspensions.

Toeing that line is something Latta admits he needs to refine.

"I've been battling that since I was younger," said Latta, who was fourth on the team with 92 penalty minutes in the regular season, and a team-high 12 penalty minutes in the playoffs. "I try to stay on that line, not go over it. I just try to keep it in the game, try not to lose it.

"It's trial and error. You definitely hear if you cross the line too much. ... Sometimes you just lose it, but you have to control your competitiveness."

It's a line Brooks has tried to keep Latta straddling properly. The balancing act becomes keeping the player on the ice without dulling that competitive edge that has made him an NHL prospect.

"That's what makes him such a special player, that edge he possesses," Brooks told NHL.com. "If he doesn't play with an edge, he's not as effective."

Latta doesn't have the offensive abilities that made Downie (234 points in 190 OHL games) or Iginla (236 points in 183 WHL games) first-round NHL draft picks, but what Brooks sees is a similar competitiveness level.

"(Latta) is such a competitor, as Iginla is," said Brooks. "He'll do whatever it takes for the team to win -- blocking shots, winning faceoffs, killing penalties. He'll do the dirty things. He'll battle two guys for the puck and come out with it. He's a battler, and with his skill level, it makes him a great player."

"I try to stay on that line, not go over it. I just try to keep it in the game, try not to lose it. It's trial and error. You definitely hear if you cross the line too much. ... Sometimes you just lose it, but you have to control your competitiveness."
-- Michael Latta

Scouts certainly have noticed, as Latta was one of 40 players invited to the CHL-NHL Top Prospects Game. He won the Shooting Accuracy contest at the skills contest, breaking four targets on just six shots. In the game, he had no shots and two penalty minutes playing on a line with Guelph teammates Peter Holland and Taylor Beck.

The scouts were watching, and will continue to watch Latta, but he says he feels no extra pressure to perform.

"You can't really see the scouts in the stands, but you know they're watching," said Latta. "It's fun. I like the challenge. It puts more pressure on me, and I like that. It motivates you to work a little harder and do the little things right."

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com.