Oscar Fantenberg’s NHL career is fewer than 60 games old, but in that small sample size, his most memorable performances have been against one team.
In last season’s playoffs, the Kings defenseman established his credentials with a career-high 41 minutes, 10 seconds of playing time in a Game 2 double-overtime loss to the Vegas Golden Knights. This season, Fantenberg has one point in 26 games, but that was a spot-on pass that sprung Tyler Toffoli for a breakaway overtime goal against Vegas on Dec. 23.
Anomaly or not, Fantenberg takes to Vegas.
“I don’t know why,” he said. “I’ve actually thought about that, too. I feel like I’m playing good against Vegas, but I mean, that can [be because of] Game 2, so I have to be focused every game. But I think their style of hockey fits my game, too. It’s fun to play against those guys.”
Fantenberg and the Kings will get their third look at the Golden Knights in three weeks Saturday. The bigger picture shows that Fantenberg has quietly held down a depth defenseman spot for nearly a month, especially in the absence of injured Dion Phaneuf and Alec Martinez.
A major reason is probably Fantenberg’s versatility. By his count, he’s been partnered with “everybody,” from Drew Doughty and Jake Muzzin to Derek Forbort and lately Paul LaDue.
“He gives us some flexibility … he can move the puck well,” coach Willie Desjardins said. “He can defend well. He gives you a little bit of everything.”
Fantenberg has tried to build his defensive game from his rookie season and he plays on the penalty-killing unit but, at the urging of assistant coach Marco Sturm, has also tried to jump into the play more. He had two quality chances Thursday and finished with six blocked shots at the other end, in just more than 14 minutes of ice time.
The offensive part of his game is expected to evolve more. Fantenberg’s next game will be his 27th this season, which will equal his total from last season, when he transitioned from Europe to the NHL.
This is also a critical evaluation period for the 27-year-old, with the one-year contract extension he signed last May set to expire after this season. It’s understandable he’s trying to make the most of regular playing time, whether it’s against Vegas and Swedish countrymen and friend William Karlsson or another opponent.
“It’s nice to play a lot of games in a row and get that confidence, and play a little bit more minutes, too,” Fantenberg said. “It gets a little bit easier to get into games. You trust yourself a little bit more instead of going in-and-out of the lineup. … I feel confident out there. I feel like I don’t rush into plays as I did before. I try to be responsible everywhere and try to be reliable for coaches, too.”
Phaneuf took contact Friday but Desjardins didn’t think Phaneuf would be ready to return from an upper-body injury.
“No, I wouldn’t say [he’d be available Saturday],” Desjardins said.
Martinez isn’t skating yet but is progressing from his upper-body injury, Desjardins said.
Jeff Carter, who missed the game Thursday with an upper-body injury, practiced Friday. Daniel Brickley was re-assigned.
When: Saturday, 1 p.m.
On the air: TV: FSW; Radio: iHeartRadio (LA Kings Audio Network)