Michael Latta brings shot suppression, fighting skills to Blackhawks’ AHL forward corps

The former Capital gives the Rockford IceHogs some added bite.

The Chicago Blackhawks shook up their minor league roster on Saturday, sending defenseman Cameron Schilling to the LA Kings in exchange for forward Michael Latta. The move didn’t exactly send shockwaves through the hockey world, but it did represent the first trade made by GM Stan Bowman since the start of the season.

Latta is reporting straight to the IceHogs, where he’ll replace Schilling on the roster. He’s signed to a one-year, $600,000 contract, and will be a restricted free agent in the offseason.

Rockford already had seven other defensemen in Gustav Forsling, Ville Pokka, Viktor Svedberg, Carl Dahlstrom, Erik Gustafsson, Nolan Valleau, and Robin Norell, so the 28-year-old Schilling was considered expendable. As with many minor league trades, it’s largely a “change of scenery” sort of deal.

Schilling was never going to crack the Blackhawks’ roster with so many other options, so the Hawks are seeing whether Latta might turn out to be more useful. Ideally, it could pan out like the Jeremy Morin-for-Richard Panik deal a year ago, which happened under somewhat similar circumstances and delivered Chicago a useful piece.

Latta, 25, is a physical presence who thrives at playing low-event hockey. You can’t expect him to produce much offensively, but he has a track record of limiting chances for opponents.

In 113 games with the Capitals from 2013-16, Latta only allowed 47.7 shots against per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 play, per Hockey-Reference. While the team didn’t produce much more than that (49.2 shots for per 60), that kind of shot suppression is actually rather impressive.

For some perspective of how good that is compared to this year’s Hawks, Artemi Panarin is the only player allowing fewer 5-on-5 shots per 60 (45.7), and he plays a hyper-offensive role. Marcus Kruger, the Hawks’ designated defensive whiz, is at 51.4 shots per 60.

So that’s one area where Latta might prove useful. If the Hawks wanted to use the Kruger line as a prime shot suppression group that eats tough minutes and frees up the other lines for easier assignments, Latta could be a good option. At the very least, I’d argue that Latta would be an immediate upgrade over Jordin Tootoo in the lineup.

The other thing that Latta likes to do is fight. According to hockeyfights.com, he’s fought 22 times in the NHL, 44 times in the AHL, and 47 times in the OHL since starting his career in 2007.

As a member of the Ontario Reign, Los Angeles’ AHL affiliate, he recorded more fights (seven) than points (six) in 29 games this season.

The Blackhawks don’t really fight much, but it’s fair to say they like having that element on their roster to some degree. That’s why they’ve valued guys like Andrew Shaw, Brandon Bollig, and most recently, Tootoo.

The trouble with the last guy, and some of the other options, is that they’re not particularly effective hockey players beyond whatever physical element they’re providing. Tootoo has allowed 58.8 5-on-5 shots per 60 this season, which is one of the poorest marks on the team.

Latta seems like he might be a little different. He’s regularly posted positive possession numbers thanks to very good shot suppression, and if you’re unable to score often, that’s pretty much the best thing you can do. That may not translate in a new system with new teammates, but it’s an interesting addition. You can see why the Hawks decided to bring him in.