Reliance on veteran base combined with influx of young talent has been Kings’ forte
The pairing of defensemen Drew Doughty and Oscar Fantenberg was somehow fitting for the Kings’ regular season finale.
They are separated by one jersey number, Doughty wearing No. 8 and Fantenberg No. 7, but they might as well be on opposite ends of the spectrum.
Doughty, of course, is a franchise cornerstone, arguably the best defender in the NHL with a career-high 60 points this season. Flanking him was rookie Fantenberg, thrown into his first NHL game since Jan. 4 because of injuries on the Kings’ back end. But there they were for the most important game of the regular season Saturday, with playoff seeding and home-ice advantage on the line against the Dallas Stars at Staples Center.
It was a microcosm of how the Kings got to that point, with a big reliance on their veteran base, spiked by an influx of young players like Fantenberg.
The latter was partly because of an injury to Jeff Carter, but it also signals the organization’s priority to develop and build depth
Fantenberg is one of seven Kings players to make their NHL debut this season, the latest Daniel Brickley on Thursday.
“We’re hoping that now that Jeff’s back and they’ve had that experience, this can only help us this time of year because they’ve had the opportunity to play in those situations, and they’ve shown that they can perform,” Kings coach John Stevens said.
Fantenberg got a roster spot at the beginning of the season before inconsistency, mainly in defending, sent him to the minors. His improvement there meant he got the nod over Kevin Gravel for Game 82.
“It means they trust me,” Fantenberg said. “It’s fun to get up here and get a chance to play for a playoff [spot] here. That’s where you want to be. You want to be a part of the Kings, and play big games. It’s fun. I’m just going to take advantage of this opportunity here.”
The Swedish Fantenberg was recalled Thursday, just in time to meet the Galaxy’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who attended the game.
“That was pretty much the best day of my life,” Fantenberg said. “It was huge. I was kind of nervous to see him. I kind of choked a little bit. I didn’t know what to ask him. He was kind of shocked when I started talking Swedish to him.”
While Fantenberg played in his 27th NHL game, Doughty played in his 328th consecutive game, the fourth straight season he has played in all 82 games. Doughty will likely eclipse Anze Kopitar’s franchise record of 330 next season.
“Yeah, I want to break that record,” Doughty said in his blunt manner. It’s an impressive number given Doughty leads the NHL in ice time, always versus the top players, and he’s excelled. “I think his defensive game is as good as it’s ever been,” Stevens said.
Stevens and the Kings will need Doughty against either the Ducks, San Jose Sharks or Vegas Golden Knights. All three were in play as playoff opponents going into Saturday.
“We’re not going to wish for anyone,” Doughty said. “We don’t care who we get. We’re just trying to win this game. Things could fall into place if we get home ice, but no matter happens, we’ll be ready for whoever we get.”
Go beyond the scoreboard
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