Michael Latta cheered when teammate and friend Taylor Beck was selected by the Nashville Predators in the third round of the NHL draft last weekend. Two picks later, it was his turn to celebrate as the Predators chose him too.
The whole family – Michael, his parents Gary and Liz and older brothers Jeffrey and Jimmy – were in Montreal for last weekend’s draft selection.
“It was really nerve-wracking, sitting there not knowing where I was going,” Latta said. “[Once] I got called, the pressure was off and I could finally relax.”
The NHL draft has been on the horizon since Latta was drafted by the OHL’s Ottawa 67s two years ago.
The 5’11, 200-pound centre had 28 points in 50 games in his first season with the 67s. He improved on that performance last year, posting 22 goals and 57 points in 65 games. Latta split the season between the 67s and the Guelph Storm; 67s coach Brian Kilrea worked out a trade deal so Latta could be closer to his family.
Latta will be back with the Storm this year, and he’s confident this season will be even better than last.
“I’m a year older and I got messed up with a trade last year. This year’s going to be a nice starting point … just starting off in Guelph, starting off right from the get-go and not having to worry about meeting 22 new guys and a whole new organization and getting used to different systems.”
His coaches like Latta’s playmaking ability, but they also praise his grit and competitiveness. Latta isn’t one to shy away from a physical challenge; last season he racked up 92 minutes in penalties.
Latta has been putting in hours at the gym this summer, working out in Guelph Monday through Friday. He also hits the ice three times a week and travels to Oakville once a week to work on his skating with former champion figure skater Barb Underhill.
“It’s pretty hectic, but there’s a lot of guys drafted to the NHL right now, so if you want to make it, you’ve got to push,” he said.
Latta has one more semester to go at St. David Catholic Secondary School in Waterloo. He turned 18 on May 25 and spent his birthday week going through the NHL draft combine, a series of interviews and medical evaluations winding up with a grueling fitness test.
Latta met with 20 NHL teams ahead of the draft, some of them more than once. Nashville was among those teams, but they gave him no sign they were planning to draft him.
“I didn’t know whether they were going to take me, I didn’t have any indication.”
Latta flies out to Nashville on Monday for the Predator’s conditioning camp. Teammate Taylor Beck will be on the same 6 a.m. flight, and Latta said it’s good to know there will be a familiar face there.
“He’s a really good friend of mine, he’s a good guy. I think it’s going to help up push each other, help us get better, and just know someone while we’re down there.”