It's been only seven games since Cam Atkinson returned from injury.
While the team has struggled, going 2-4-1 in those games, Atkinson's play hasn't been a reason for the slide.
He has five points in those seven games and has been held off the scoresheet just twice (both vs. Washington). Atkinson has passed the eye test, generating chances and looking comfortable opposite Artemi Panarin on the right side of the new-look top line.
The underlying statistics seem to back his play, too.
In the seven games since his return, Atkinson leads the team in HDCF%, or high-danger chances-for by percentage. It's a complicated way to say that, as a ratio, no other player is on the attacking side of high-danger scoring opportunities more than Atkinson. He's been on the ice for 33 such opportunities, and 22 of them (66.67%) have been in the favor of the Blue Jackets.
Not surprisingly, he also leads the team in GF% (goals for percentage), which tells us the ratio of how many goals – of all goals – are scored by a certain team, with 83.33%.
— NHL (@NHL) January 26, 2018
It's a small sample size, but when Atkinson is on the ice, the Blue Jackets are scoring 83% of total goals and generating two of every three high-danger scoring chances.
Atkinson is a key cog in the club's engine. He's a trusted goal scorer, he can kill penalties, and he's shown he can be a contributor on the power play. The Jackets are among the league's worst in power play and penalty killing, and though Atkinson missed a month of the season, he's still on the hook for some of these failings. In the seven games, he's been on the ice for three goals while penalty killing, most among Blue Jackets forwards. On the other hand, he's been on the ice for two power play goals in that same time span, tied for most among the team's forwards.
— Columbus Blue Jackets (@BlueJacketsNHL) February 4, 2018
Injury aside, he wasn't replicating his career season from a year ago. After increasing his goal total every year since he's been in the league, his drop this season will be an uncomfortable outlier in an otherwise stellar career. And while the Blue Jackets are fighting through tough waters to try to make the playoffs for the second consecutive season for the first time in franchise history, there's no doubting Atkinson's importance.
If Atkinson can maintain this level of play, it'll go a long way in delivering the Blue Jackets back to the playoffs.
Note: all stats courtesy of NaturalStatTrick and are 5-on-5, unless otherwise indicated.