During those times when doubt crept into his mind in his rookie season, defenseman Oscar Fantenberg had to only walk across the room.
In Christian Folin, Fantenberg had a teammate who literally spoke his language and played his position. It was a convenient Swedish connection.
“He helped me just by talking to me and showing me the way and what’s going on,” Fantenberg said. “I think that was a big, important thing for me to have him last year. We still keep in touch every day.”
Folin would probably be proud of his mentorship, and he’ll get to see it in person Thursday when Fantenberg and the Kings play the Philadelphia Flyers. After 60-plus games of experience, Fantenberg has been trusted with a larger responsibility in place of the traded Jake Muzzin, all while trying to earn a new contract with the Kings.
Fantenberg has taken Muzzin’s role in the second pairing with Alec Martinez, with Martinez moved to the left side to tap more into his offensive skills. It was assistant Marco Sturm’s idea to pair Fantenberg with Martinez, and coach Willie Desjardins said “both can move the puck and they both can defend, so that’s a good combination.”
Fantenberg has played more than 19 minutes in each of the last two games, an adjustment Sturm said is the next step for the 27-year-old, who is averaging 15-plus minutes per game.
“I think that’s something that might take a little bit, to be consistent every night, play the same way and getting better at it and playing 20 minutes a game,” Sturm said.
Sturm has worked with Fantenberg on breakouts, and he would like Fantenberg to be more assertive offensively because “he’s a little bit shy out there sometimes.” Sturm said he didn’t know Fantenberg “at all” before he was hired by the Kings in mid-November and put in charge of the defense.
But Sturm is impressed with Fantenberg’s development from a free-agent signing to the verge of an everyday defenseman.
“He improved, he really worked hard at it,” Sturm said. “Even in practice, he stepped it up a level. And right now he just has the opportunity to play more minutes and have that bigger role. Is he there yet? No. I think there’s a lot more room left. But I’m really happy and excited, even for him, that he came that far that quickly, in a short time.”
Fantenberg sees the window ahead of him. The one-year contract extension he signed in May will run out this summer, which makes him the only Kings defenseman on an expiring contract. Him and his fiancee have found the team and the city a good fit and want to keep it going.
“I like playing in L.A.,” Fantenberg said. “That’s where I want to play. When I get this opportunity, I should take it and show the staff that I belong here. That might bring me back here. This is where I want to play. They gave me the chance to play in the NHL and trusted me, and I want to give it back to them and play as good hockey as possible.”
Fantenberg can no longer share the local sunshine with Folin, who signed with the Flyers in free agency and has been in and out of their lineup. But the friendship is still strong. The two planned to meet Wednesday night.
Said Fantenberg: “He’s a good friend of mine and he’s such a good guy, too, so it’s going to be good to catch up.”
When: Thursday, 4 p.m. PST.
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