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Late into the Blue Jackets’ season there seemed to be a divide amongst fans, management and the coaching staff. It all surrounded one player: Cam Atkinson. I titled the article claiming he was an enigma, a title normally given to Russians and various other european players. Like those other “enigmas” you need to find what that player is good at and use him in optimal situations. Cam Atkinson scores goals in bunches. He does it at a pretty good rate, let him do what he does best and you won’t be upset with the results.
As you can see here with the info provided by Extra Skater, Cam Atkinson has pretty much provided the exact same production for the Blue Jackets at the exact same rate. Roughly 0.5 points per game with a positive Corsi relative. With the information provided, it can be argued that he is one of the most consistent players on the team. You know what you are going to be getting from him night in and night out. Why does he then get the label of being inconsistent? When you haven’t scored a goal in a certain amount of time you are expected to do the other little things. Due to his diminutive stature though you won’t see him fighting for the puck in the corner like a player 6’0 and above, it is not nearly as noticeable when you aren’t winning every board battle. Somehow this gets translated into him lacking effort, when in reality its just a fan’s perception of what to expect from an NHL player. I don’t expect that perspective to change but when looking back on the season you can see that he has done exactly what has been asked of him.
The next question to ask about Cam Atkinson is whether or not he is going to get any better. While I stated that he plateaued in regard to his advanced stats, you don’t really see anything that indicates that he will improve on last season. He got pretty cushy zone starts in regard to the other wingers on the team. The only part that I could see him improving upon would be his 5v5 shooting percentage which has gone down the past two years from 10% to 6.75%. If he can capitalize upon his even strength time at a much more productive rate, he could have a higher point total than in prior seasons. The problem with projecting his point totals is that he has been getting a large chunk of time on the power play as of late, which can skew some of his numbers.
While I believe Atkinson is a valuable part of this team, I am yet to be convinced about his long term usage on this team. At 25 years of age he is going to be hitting the supposed prime of his career, and his value as a player has never been higher. Being an RFA at the end of his contract also makes him an attractive option to almost every team in the NHL. This season should be a make or break year for him, as he will be closely monitored by the front office and it will be determined whether or not he will be an integral part of the Blue Jackets. His production is good but not irreplaceable and he could see himself expendable if an improvement isn’t seen in his game. The thought of a player like this being traded just a season or two ago was a crazy thought but not anymore. Excellence is soon going to be the standard in the Jackets organization; will he rise to the occasion?