Maybe this was exactly what Cam Atkinson needed, to not be the main focus on the team and dangerously go about his business scoring goals like everyone knows he can. Some may have forgotten because of his previous two seasons as a part of the Columbus Blue Jackets, but that’s not all on him.
In one of the biggest trades of the offseason, we saw Atkinson join the Philadelphia Flyers. Many thought he would line up on the first line beside Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier, but playing on the second line looks to have been the best option. Some attention and difficult matchups are taken away from him and given to the top line, while he’s able to produce just as well, if not better, not playing against the opponents’ top players every night.
Atkinson has been a scorer throughout his career and is showing that without a doubt he still possesses that ability, with or without an elite passer alongside him.
Cam Atkinson’s Pre-Panarin Production
Atkinson was well on his way to breaking Blue Jacket franchise records as his career trajectory was headed up. He continued to increase production and get more ice time as a result of his nice development. He was already a four-time 20-goal scorer and scored 35 goals the year before the team acquired Panarin in a trade.
Atkinson was also efficient on the power play, as he recorded 10 power-play goals and 21 power-play points in the 2016-17 season. He may have been able to reach the heights he did in Columbus even if Artemi Panarin didn’t show up when he did and helped that along in 2018-19. He has shown early that he can score regardless of if he plays with elite players or not. He has a shoot-first mentality, and any shot has the chance of going in the net.
Atkinson’s Record Goals to Change in Scenery
Once the Blue Jackets traded for Artemi Panarin, it put Atkinson in the perfect position to succeed. He set career highs in goals (41), assists (28), points (69), shots (295), and average time on ice (ATOI: 19:23) in 2018-19. Having already shown the ability to score a lot of goals, Atkinson excelled with an elite playmaker added to the fold, not only at 5-on-5 but also on the power play.
The career year for Atkinson was the last year with the Blue Jackets for Panarin. Atkinson tied the franchise mark in goals for a single season. He can be considered as having had the second-best career as a Blue Jacket player, behind Rick Nash.
The Blue Jackets seemed to be in a rebuild mode after the past couple of offseasons saw them lose notable producers in Panarin, Matt Duchene, Sergei Bobrovsky, and Nick Foligno leave. For a team located in Columbus, it’s hard to attract free agents to join the team, so they either have to draft or trade to acquire the game-changers. The first three players mentioned above were all brought into the organization one of those two ways and all decided to leave as soon as they were free agents.
If a player like Atkinson who has played great in his career for the Blue Jackets decides to sign a 7-year extension, you need to keep him around. Instead, they elected to trade him only three years into that 7-year deal. For a player that had scored over 20 goals in six consecutive seasons and topped 40 in one of those, the contract was very fair. Nevertheless, the Flyers moved a larger contract in Jakub Voracek, who excelled in passing, and received Atkinson who is a goal-scoring winger they needed.
Hot Start in Philadelphia
The fire was lit under Atkinson after comments were made saying that his production declined because Panarin was no longer his winger. He took steps forward but the Blue Jackets just weren’t the same competitive team as previous years and offence, like everything else, struggled.
Excited to join his new team in Philadelphia and get a fresh start with no judgment, Atkinson looks to be an early steal in the trade. A younger, cheaper, and more productive winger to replace Voracek on the second line. It helps spread out the scoring on a forward group that is very deep with possible threats on the ice at all times.
Atkinson is off to a great start with six goals and seven points in seven games for the Flyers currently skating with Joel Farabee and Derick Brassard until Kevin Hayes retakes his spot as the second-line centre. That scoring pace has him in early talks to at least hit 40-50 goals on the season. He has a great opportunity to challenge his career record but would have to have an incredible year to match the Flyers’ single-season goal records.
Only six Flyers have reached the 50-goal mark in a season, and I wonder if Atkinson can join that exclusive company of a rich franchise history. He will be doing most of his work at 5-on-5 since the top power-play unit is pretty much set when healthy. This would make any mark that much more impressive.
Not only has Atkinson produced points early, as a result of that, but he has also turned his minus-16 from last season to a plus-9 already. That’s not to say his defensive game has improved, but the situation and his need to be productive at even strength is a factor.
It’s very early in the season, but the Flyers and Atkinson are pleasantly seeing early returns in one of the big trades they pulled off to retool their team after last season. They are looking good and many thanks to Atkinson for leading the charge. Three years still remain after this, and it looks very bright in Philadelphia for the foreseeable future. They will take any advantage they can get, as the rest of the division is tough sledding.
Rob Couch is a THW freelance writer covering mainly the Edmonton Oilers and Philadelphia Flyers. He covers everything you need to know about fantasy hockey. He will also keep you up to date with the NHL Stat Corner and trade talks from around the NHL.