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Sunday 24th Sep 2017

As I’m looking over the statistical leaders in the NHL, one name continues to pop up everywhere, and it’s not one of the normal names I usually see. This fellow plays in Columbus, and four more of his teammates pepper the top 50 leading scorers. Cam Atkinson is plain and simple a category stat filler, and none of the other league leaders fill the stat box like the former Boston College standout.

Currently tied for seventh in points at 38 with Nikita Kucherov and Phil Kessel, names we see up here often, now it’s Cam’s turn to shine. In his fourth full season after a couple of half-season debuts, Atkinson, now 27 and the former sixth round draft pick, is leading the Columbus charge offensively. He is sixth in goals created at 15.3%, tied for second in power play goals with eight, and tied for the league lead with two short-handed goals as well. A player of this ilk is a head coach's dream come true, a player he can trust to play in any and all situations. Mario Lemieux and Steve Yzerman had the same kind of sway with their head coaches, and I’m not saying Cam is going to be either of those greats, but he is a commodity HC John Tortorella would never give up.

While only averaging 17:56 minutes per game, Atkinson is making the most of all his chances. Since he began playing full-time, Cam has never scored fewer than 21 goals, but in this day and age, the game is so much more than just goals. Columbus rolls four lines deep and this will continue, and it will be very interesting to see how they fare in the playoffs this year for the first time as a unit. I previously mentioned that the Blue Jackets are the NHL’s third-youngest team at 26.1 years old, which is the product of numerous very unproductive seasons and high lottery picks. The kids are learning what it takes to win in the regular season, and I hope these guys do well in the playoffs.

In the clutch and grab New Jersey Devils era, a player of Atkinson’s stature would have needed a rape whistle playing 18 minutes a game, but in the open era of today, he can shine. At only 5’8” and 175 pounds wet, Cam is slowly becoming one of my favorite fantasy players, up there with Nikita Kucherov, and I do own him on five of six teams, drafted, not waivers like Alexander Wennberg.

I was looking at the 1992-93 Pittsburgh Penguins team with its already four Hall of Famers (and Jaromir Jagr will be in when he retires) and wonder if this Blue Jackets team holds that possibility. Mario Lemieux only played 60 games that year but managed a meager 69 goals, 91 assists, and 160 points…in 60 GAMES! He finished with more helpers than all but one or two players this year will have in total points. Man, when nobody played defense was the golden era of scoring. Wayne Gretzky may be the all-time best player statistically, but Lemieux was the best player ever in my humble opinion.

As I finished writing this piece, I just saw the Blue Jackets' 16-game winning streak come to an end at the hands of the Washington Capitals. This was just a small taste of what the young Jackets will face come playoff time, along with the Cup Champ Penguins, twice bounced Conference Final loser Tampa Bay Lightning, New York Rangers and Montreal Canadiens. Regardless of the playoff outcome, this Columbus team has something special, and is finally headed in the right direction. Cam Atkinson will be one of the leaders all the way through. At 27 years old and just entering his prime years, he is a bit of an elder statesman with this group of youngsters.

Atkinson possesses the NHL’s fourth-best Offensive Point Share at 4.6%, only trailing the Pittsburgh duo of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, along with Vladimir Tarasenko. Always a goal scorer, never missing more than a handful of games, and stays out of the penalty box, what’s not to like about the way Cam and his teammates have played this year? Only one thing stands out to me and it’s his massive decline in Corsi and Fenwick Advanced Statistics provided by Hockey-Reference.

NHL Possession Metrics (Even Strength)
Advanced NHL career statistics

            Corsi (EV)     Fenwick (EV)        
Season Age Team Lg  GP TOI   CF  CA  CF%   CF% rel    FF    FA    FF%   FF% rel 
 2013-14   24 CBJ  NHL  79  1044.6       989    924  51.7   0.9   735   687  51.7   1.5
 2014-15  25 CBJ  NHL  78  1063.4    1009   1062  48.7  1.7   758   815  48.2   1.4
2015-16  26 CBJ NHL  81  1108.5    1076   1067  50.2  3.2   815   785  50.9   3.5
2016-17  27 CBJ NHL  36    492.6      469    531  46.9  -4.2   323   395   45.0  -7.2
Career     NHL   336  4522.6     4292   4281  50.1  2.1   3201  3189   50.1    2.1

In layman’s terms, this means the team is not controlling the puck as often when Cam is on the ice as in previous seasons where his Corsi percentage was close to or over 50%. His numbers are down so far, but we’re not even at the halfway point of the season yet, and this isn’t just a reflection on Atkinson as much as it is the team when he’s on the ice.

You can always reach me @PolkaPat.

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