Generally, where there is smoke, there is fire, and over the past 24 hours the internet has been smoked out by rumors of the Los Angeles Kings inking Swedish defenseman Oscar Fantenberg to a contract. However, the team has yet to release anything official, nor has the deal been confirmed my a major mainstream media outlet. Thus far, the authority on the situation has been John Hoven, L.A. sports blogger and NHL Network Radio host, who reports that it is a done deal between the Kings and Fantenberg, but provides no other specifics. For now, the presumption is that the two sides are close and are hammering out the details.
The 25-year-old Fantenberg could be a promising signing for the Kings. The 6’0″, 200-pound blue liner made the jump to the KHL last season, after years of sustained excellence in Sweden, joining HK Sochi, and was selected as an All-Star in his first campaign and finished the year with three goals and 20 assists in 40 games. His 23 points led all Sochi defenders in scoring and was fifth-best on the team, not far behind star Andrei Kostitsyn. A good comparison for Fantenberg may be the Toronto Maple Leafs’ Nikita Zaitsev, who left the KHL last season at the age of 24 following a season where he scored 26 points in 46 games. The book on Zaitsev was that he played a smart, responsible two-way game and could also move the puck and shoot well, but needed time to develop a stronger physical game and to improve his skating. Zaitsev responded by playing in all 82 of the Leafs regular season games and recording 36 points. Similarly, Fantenberg has been lauded for his well-rounded game, both as a solid two-way player and reliable offensive contributor. The knocks have been, like Zaitsev, that he’s not afraid to play physical, but could get stronger and is a good skater, but could get faster. If Fantenberg can take the next step like his former KHL counterpart, the Kings could be looking at an everyday defenseman good for 30+ points in 2017-18 and beyond.
As is with many rumors of European signings at this time of year though, the deal is not yet set in stone and it may take some time for anything to be made official. Despite Fantenberg being 25 and having several years of pro hockey under his belt, the Kings do not have to wait out the upcoming Expansion Draft to make the signing, as players’ experience for draft eligibility is limited to their time in North America. However, with the Expansion Draft and Entry Draft looming, as well as negotiations with current players underway, the Kings and many other teams are simply taking their time with locking up European talent. The Islanders were recently rumored to be looking into their own former prospect, Swedish Hockey League star Johan Sundstrom, while many teams have surely begun to talk with top free agents from the KHL Champion SKA St. Petersburg, including Vadim Shipachyov and Nikita Gusev, but so far nothing official has come as a result. The Kings and Fantenberg seem closer than most, but any sort of confirmation is still being awaited.