Cam Atkinson began the season with a whimper, failing to register his first point of the season until he tallied an assist in his fifth game. It didn't get much better after that, and through 11 games, the Blue Jackets veteran winger held a pedestrian 1-3-4 (G-A-PTS) stat line.
But since then, the 31-year old has been on an absolute tear, posting a gaudy 9-6-15 mark in his past 13 games. During this span, he has three shorthanded goals, three power-play assists, and two game-winning goals. And while much of the team has struggled to sustain strong consistent play in recent weeks, Atkinson has been a welcome exception.
I was curious if Atkinson, who leads the Blue Jackets with 19 points in 24 games this season, is simply riding a hot streak, or if there have been material changes that have allowed him to achieve this success.
Perhaps more than anything, Atkinson's uptick can be tied to the blockbuster trade that allowed him to play primarily alongside Jack Roslovic. Interestingly, when playing alongside Patrik Laine and Roslovic, the line's underlying statistics haven't been great: Per NaturalStatTrick, the trio has been out-chanced and outscored at 5v5. Even more surprisingly, the group has an on-ice shooting percentage of 4.84%, a stunningly low percentage for a line with that kind of firepower.
In recent games, Atkinson and Roslovic have teamed up with Boone Jenner and have found some success. In over 47 minutes of 5v5 play, they've been positive in every offensive metric. But then again, Atkinson hasn't done the bulk of his damage at 5v5.
In the shortened 2019-20 season, no player had more than four shorthanded goals and the four players who did score that many did so in 65-71 games. Atkinson has three shorthanded goals in the past 13 games (incredibly, his only goal in the first 11 games of the season also came at the man-disadvantage). Atkinson excels shorthanded thanks to his killer instincts, and perhaps a bigger cushion than what he's seeing at 5v5, where teams are buttoned up.
Another obvious factor for Atkinson's increased offensive output is tied to his shooting percentage. In his first 11 games, Atkinson shot 4%. In his most recent 13 games, his shooting percentage has ballooned to 20.9%. While nobody can/should expect Atkinson to shoot 20.9% (all situations), 4% is also incredibly low. It may be tempting to call out this increase as 'puck luck', but it's worth noting that his volume has also seen a dramatic rise. Using the same timeframes as above, Atkinson's shot totals have increased from 5.38 shots/60, t-13th on the team, (at 5v5, again from NST) to 10.24, tops on the team. It's a bit of a chicken or the egg conundrum, but whether shot volume follows goals or vice versa, the obvious conclusion is that Atkinson's shooting confidence is (rightly) high.
All the while, Atkinson's ice time has deservedly increased from 17:10 to 19:12. The Blue Jackets inconsistencies this season have been well-documented, but if the Jenner-Roslovic-Atkinson line is able to continue providing offense, it could go a long way in helping to turn the tide on the season.