In his 10 seasons with the Columbus Blue Jackets, new Flyers right winger Cam Atkinson compiled an impressive list of of individual accomplishments.
Last season, he joined Rick Nash as just the second player to reach 200 goals, 400 points, and 600 games with the Blue Jackets. Atkinson, 32, tied for second in the league and tied his career-high with four shorthanded goals. The two-time All-Star leads all active sixth-round picks in goals with 213 and ranks 15th among all-time sixth-rounders, according to QuantHockey.
However, former Flyer Scott Hartnell said his close friend and ex-Blue Jackets teammate, deserves credit for one more accolade — he inspired Hartnell’s 300th career goal that came in the final game of the 2015-16 season against the Chicago Blackhawks.
“I was at 299 goals in my career and I think it was like maybe six, seven, eight games I hadn’t scored,” Hartnell said. “I think he was at 140 goals or 160 or something like that. And he’s like, ‘I’m gonna get to 300 before you get to 300, right?’ I was at 299. I was like, ‘Come on, man.’
“Just that little joke before that game, it made me go out and score. So I was like, ‘Oh, thanks, man, for making me feel a little looser.’”
Atkinson’s disposition toward scoring — and his sense of humor — will make him a popular figure among Flyers teammates and fans alike, according to Hartnell. A self-described “shoot-first” type of player, he arrived in Philadelphia in exchange for right winger Jake Voracek as general manager Chuck Fletcher sought to rebuild the roster this summer.
While Fletcher’s acquisitions of Ryan Ellis, Rasmus Ristolainen, and Keith Yandle altered the complexion of the defense, his decision to add six-time 20-plus-goal scorer Atkinson intends to provide new oomph to the Flyers’ offense and penalty kill.
“No matter who I play with, it seems like every player is so good and so skilled,” Atkinson said of his new teammates. “And not that they haven’t been able to score goals, but [it] seems like just from talking to some guys, everyone likes making plays and they didn’t have enough shooters, so I told them, just give me the puck and I’ll do the rest.”
To Hartnell, who played in the league for 17 seasons until he was 35 years old, “age is just a number” for the nimble Atkinson. As the game continues to emphasize speed and scoring, Atkinson has the skill set to remain relevant.
After playing in the league for 10 years, the 5-foot-8, 175-pound Connecticut native learned to tailor his offseason training regimen to strengthen his in-season play. Gone are the days when Atkinson threw as many plates as he could muster on a barbell. Now, he focuses on exercises that enhance his speed and balance, from working on-ice at his Battery Hockey Academy outside of Columbus to doing Pilates once a week with his wife, Natalie.
“I lift heavy, but I don’t lift nearly as heavy,” Atkinson said. “I feel like every time I end the summer workouts and head to Columbus when I was living in Connecticut, I’d always hurt my back or there’d always be something going on where it’s a nagging injury that just wouldn’t go away because I tried lifting as heavy as I could.
“So I think I’ve just matured as a player in the gym and outside of the gym to get me completely ready for the start of the season in training camp.”
Atkinson aims to tap into the success he had in the 2018-19 season when he scored a career-high 41 goals to go with 28 assists. That year stands in contrast with his production over the last two abbreviated seasons: In 100 games, Atkinson scored 27 times on Blue Jackets teams that ranked 27th in goals for in 2019-20 and 28th in 2021.
In 2018-19, Atkinson played primarily on a line with current New York Rangers superstar Artemi Panarin, and former No. 3 overall pick Pierre-Luc Dubois. The trio accounted for roughly a third of the team’s points.
“I think we’d kind of figured out our tendencies on the ice,” Atkinson said. “I’m obviously a shoot-first guy and Luc Dubois, he’s a horse and can bring the puck up and make plays, and obviously ‘Bread Man’ [Panarin] is that type of player as well. Soon as I touched the puck, I’d give it to them and kind of get lost and let my offensive ability take over from there, and just put myself in a position to get the puck to shoot it.”
“That’s what makes a good line is when your guys all know each other, just that chemistry, it’s definitely important, and that’s what I’m most excited about this year.”
The chemistry that Atkinson seeks with his prospective linemates has been building as recently as the Flyers’ voluntary skates leading up to training camp, and as early as his college years. Likely to play on one of the top two lines, Atkinson made acquaintances with Flyers captain Claude Giroux at past All-Star Games and bonded with his new teammate through Hartnell.
Atkinson and Flyers center Kevin Hayes played together at Boston College, where he was roomed for three years with Hayes’ late brother, Jimmy.
“I got traded and [Kevin] was the first person to call me,” Atkinson said. “Just how excited he was and I just remember when we were actually teammates at BC, him and I would always have these little inside jokes and sayings. It’s funny how 13 years later, we’re still doing the same thing, talking the same way.
“Obviously with everything that’s happened, it just seems like everything sort of happens for a reason. I couldn’t be in a better spot to just be with him every day and pick his spirits up and just be another brother for him.”
From going on golf outings with his teammates to exchanging chirps around the weight room, meshing off the ice with faces old and new comes naturally to Atkinson. Now, he’s tasked with translating that chemistry on the ice with his to-be-determined linemates as the team looks to catapult themselves back into playoff contention.
“If he plays with a Coots [Sean Couturier] or a Hayes, maybe even Giroux, too, as well, that loves to pass the puck,” Hartnell said, “Cam doesn’t need much time and space right in front of that net to let his shot go. Boy, it’s accurate and hard, too.”
The accomplishments with the Blue Jackets, while impressive, are in the past. It’s up to Atkinson to lend a voice of leadership in the Flyers’ locker room and breathe new life into the team’s offensive attack.
“Everyone keeps saying how obviously on paper how good we look, we just have to go out there and do it now,” Atkinson said. “Chuck Fletcher did everything he could to put a team like this together. That was the conversation I had with AV as well, the coach, now it’s our turn to go out and prove them right.”