Kings defenseman Oscar Fantenberg had a special guest with him when the Kings went through New York last month.
His 87-year-old grandfather, Per-Ake, came to America for the first time from the outskirts of Falun, Sweden, an area so remote it doesn’t have a local grocery store, Fantenberg said. New York might as well have been an alternate universe.
“It’s a pretty cool experience for my grandpa,” Fantenberg said. “He was standing around watching all the tall buildings.”
If there’s an analogy to be made, Fantenberg is trying to navigate a lot of taller bodies without being in awe as a rookie defenseman for the Kings. He got back into the lineup for two games before he was scratched Saturday night, when the Kings activated Christian Folin from injured reserve. It was a swap of one Swedish defenseman for another. They offer different styles – Fantenberg as an offensive catalyst and Folin in the physical, conservative mold — and Folin said his countryman is equipped to stay in the NHL.
Fantenberg is only 26 games into his career but, at 26, has an extended resume. He played in Sweden and Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League before he signed with the Kings as a free agent in May.
“It shows that he’s older, that he’s played a lot of important games in his career,” Folin said. “He shows up to practice every day with a smile on his face and ready to work. That’s a good asset for … a guy that hasn’t played that many [NHL] games. He shows up every day and he wants to get better and he wants to work on stuff. He’s going to be a good player going forward for this team.”
While Folin’s bread and butter is playing a safe, sound defensive game, Fantenberg can earn his stay with his offense. He plays on the second power-play unit, which came in handy recently when the Kings got a five-minute power play against the Edmonton Oilers.
Folin notes Fantenberg’s ability to aim for sticks (or to put “apples” on net) when he shoots, and that willingness to put it on goal is an element that pleases Kings coach John Stevens.
“I think when he’s playing well and he’s confident with the puck, he really helps us,” Stevens said. “I think he shoots the puck really well. He passes the puck really well, and I think he does things quickly. The fact that he wants to shoot the puck really helps the power play.”
Generously listed as 6 feet tall, Fantenberg needs to improve defending the massive power forwards that dot NHL lineups in order to stay in the Kings lineup. It’s a common adjustment for newer defensemen, but he’s in the right system for learning because Stevens has been an architect of the Kings defense for years. It helps to have Folin in the room — the two planned to go to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, over the bye week.
The humble Fantenberg can appreciate just being at this level, and it’s more unique in front of family. He scored a goal for his grandfather against the New York Islanders on Dec.16.
“That’s really special,” Fantenberg said. “For me [to do it] in the NHL is pretty big, but it’s even bigger with my grandpa in the stands.”