Consistency can lead to complacency.
Blue Jackets fans have become used to what Cam Atkinson brings to the team each and every season. We almost forget how good he is. The focus is always on the shiny new toy, whether that’s Artemi Panarin or Pierre-Luc Dubois, but through it all, Atkinson has remained one of the best players on this team.
Atkinson’s season has been a tale of two halves. The first half, he struggled to put up points and then went down with a foot injury. In the 32 games prior to his injury, Atkinson had just six goals and seven assists. He was still getting plenty of shots (putting 94 on net) but was only shooting 6.4%. During the middle of this poor stretch, the Blue Jackets re-signed Atkinson to a seven-year deal worth $5.875 million per year.
That deal received lots of scrutiny from fans who saw how Atkinson was performing and felt the Jackets were overpaying for Atkinson’s prior season, in which he had a career high 35 goals and 62 points. To make matters worse, Atkinson broke his foot in December and was forced to miss a month of action.
On Tuesday in Edmonton, Atkinson scored his 20th goal of the season and on Thursday in Calgary he picked up his 40th point of the season. The narrative around these milestones was how consistent Atkinson has been even in a “down year.” This is the fifth consecutive season Atkinson has had 20+ goals and 40+ points.
Since Atkinson returned from injury, he has been spectacular for the Jackets and is certainly not having a down year any longer. He's playing some of his best hockey ever, even better than last season. Atkinson has played 31 games since coming back from that foot injury and has 15 goals and 15 assists for 30 points. That ranks second on the team behind Artemi Panarin’s 38. He’s taken 123 shots, by far the most on the team and third in the NHL behind Alex Ovechkin and Tyler Seguin. Atkinson’s shooting percentage has rebounded to 12.2%, which is just slightly higher than his career average.
Atkinson been one of the best players in the second half of the season and all of his numbers support his success. At 5-on-5, Atkinson has 43 high-danger chances, tied for fourth in the NHL over this time frame. It never ceases to amaze how well Atkinson gets himself to the slot area despite his size. He gets himself into the high-danger areas of the ice and Panarin is able to find him and get him the puck.
Atkinson also rates highly in a more obscure stat: Per 60 minutes, Atkinson is second in the league with 1.86 rebounds created in those 31 games. Even when he’s not scoring, he’s putting the pucks in areas where the goalie can’t cover it up. This helps create more offense for his line, as someone like Dubois who goes to the front of the net is right there to bang in those rebounds.
Let’s stop pretending Atkinson is having a down season. He had a slow start but since coming back from injury in January he has been one of the best players in the league. Playing with Panarin, the two have formed one of the best duos in the league and regardless if they have Dubois or Nick Foligno as their center, they have been one of the best lines in the league.
If the Jackets are to make a run in this year's Stanley Cup playoffs, they need players like Atkinson to continue to have success.
All stats courtesy of Natural Stat Trick