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‘We miss him’: Cam Atkinson skates with the Flyers in Columbus but still no timeline for his return

The former Blue Jacket, who finished second on the Flyers in both points (50) and goals (23) last season, has not played a game yet this season because of an upper-body injury.

Injured winger Cam Atkinson (upper body) skated with the Flyers for the first time in a while on Thursday in Columbus.
Injured winger Cam Atkinson (upper body) skated with the Flyers for the first time in a while on Thursday in Columbus.Read moreGiana Han

COLUMBUS, Ohio — When winger Cam Atkinson walked out of the tunnel before he took the ice for the Flyers’ morning skate, his teammates greeted him with cheers, their voices and stick taps reverberating throughout an empty Nationwide Arena. Atkinson waved at the barren stands in a grand entrance for a grand occasion, though few people were present to witness it.

Atkinson was an unfamiliar guest in a familiar place — the former Columbus Blue Jacket has been out with an undisclosed upper-body injury since training camp (he was listed as day-to-day on Sept. 25) and he has been absent from Flyers on-ice activities ever since.

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But Atkinson showed he at least is healthy enough to skate again, although his timeline for returning to the lineup is unknown. The Flyers did not make him available for comment after the optional morning skate. It also is unclear how long Atkinson has been in Columbus. During the preseason, coach John Tortorella said Atkinson had returned to the area to see a specialist with whom he had worked in the past.

Regardless of Atkinson’s uncertain timeline, his teammates cherished his presence ahead of the Flyers’ matchup against the Blue Jackets on Thursday night.

“I think the biggest thing is just when he’s out there, guys are excited,” winger Joel Farabee said. “He’s one of those guys, he’s always got a smile on his face. So having that around the rink definitely helps.”

Atkinson has been a fixture in the Columbus hockey community, getting drafted by and playing for the Blue Jackets for 10 years and creating the Battery Hockey Academy, a player development and training center for local athletes. He still has a home in the area, and Farabee visited him there on Wednesday after the Flyers touched down in Columbus. Even when he’s not in the lineup, Atkinson still does his best to bring his teammates together.

Last season, Atkinson worked to bring the team together on the ice, too. He won the Bobby Clarke Trophy as the Flyers’ most valuable player and served as an alternate captain for the latter part of the season. He finished second on the team in points (50) and goals (23) in his first season with the Flyers following his trade from the Blue Jackets.

“He’s an all-situation type of guy,” Farabee said. “He can play power play, PK. A guy like that’s really useful in the lineup. Someone that I look up to and try to model my game after, in a way, with just how much he does out there.”

But as much as the Flyers miss his presence on the ice, they equally miss his leadership off of it. When Tortorella arrived in Philadelphia, he said Atkinson served as a “conduit” between him and the team as one of his former players in Columbus.

“We miss him,” Tortorella said. “He’s a great pro. But I think the only way he’s helped me so far is the beginning of me going there. And him kind of clueing people in as far as the expectation, especially the readiness for the training camp.”

Now Atkinson’s teammates are eager to see him return to full health, a luxury some of the Flyers haven’t been able to attain. They’re still missing key pieces to long-term injuries, including defenseman Ryan Ellis (pelvic injury) and center Sean Couturier (back).

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“When anyone misses games and they come back, it’s an exciting time for them,” center Kevin Hayes said. “I’ve been there. I hope he gets to 100 percent before he goes back ... because that’s just a little bit risky. It’s exciting. It’s Cam. He’s a big part of our team, and he hasn’t played a game yet.”


Carter Hart (.946 save percentage, 1.97 goals-against average) was the first goalie off the ice at the Flyers’ morning skate, which indicates he is the likely starter against the Blue Jackets. Tortorella would not confirm before the morning skate that Hart will start. Hart missed Tuesday’s game against the St. Louis Blues with an illness, but he returned to practice on Wednesday. ... Forward Tanner Laczynski, who played four years at Ohio State, is looking forward to his first professional hockey game in Columbus. “It feels like kind of coming home a little bit,” Laczynski said. “This is where I spent four years, all my summers during college.”