This NHL off season has been a very unusual one for CBJ fans. First, our assistant coach unceremoniously slips into the head coach’s spot. Then Seth Jones, our superstar defenseman (not a great last year, but good enough) decides he’s out. Then an unbelievable tragedy befell our team. So with all our top picks in this year’s draft, earned after mismanaging...errr...going all in for the playoffs two years ago, even the more casual fan had a reason to tune in with some hope. Then out of the blue, OUR blue, Cam Atkinson, the longest tenured Blue Jacket and not on any radar, gets traded to the Philadelphia Flyers. It was an arms outstretched, palms up moment, asking...what’s next?
Sure, we’ve heard rumors of a “rebuild”, but Cam Atkinson? He was our assistant captain, a leader in the room, and a scorer on a team that habitually lacks scorers. His best year was 2018-2019, during which he developed some chemistry with Artemi Panarin, and logged 41 goals, 28 assists, and 69 points in 80 games. All of us felt Panarin’s absence the following year, and Atkinson was no different. He’s an extremely versatile player. Yes, he needed to develop a different move on the penalty shot. But he was consistently chosen and still often scored on goalies who didn’t do their homework. He was a beast on the penalty kill and ranked first in most shorthanded goals in the NHL. Because of Atkinson, I actually began to think we had a better chance of scoring on the penalty kill than the power play. He was our All-Star representative in 2017, along with Seth Jones, and he should have won the All-Star MVP. I can still remember watching Wayne Gretzky, the substitute Metropolitan division coach for Coach Tortorella, with his “wow!” expression after a particular Atkinson scoring maneuver. He represented the US at the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championships in 2018. He also holds the Blue Jackets’ record for most hat tricks.
He also built roots in the Columbus community, and seemed to genuinely enjoy the city while becoming invested in its success. We’ve been patrons of the Battery Hockey Academy, a hockey school for “beginners to elite” players since its inception, granting the burgeoning youth hockey community in Columbus another (studio) sheet of ice, and a dent in the Chiller’s stronghold, despite the latter busting at every seam. Good for Cam Atkinson. Having siblings that are first responders, he co-founded Force Network Fund to support these vital members of our community, as well as military organizations. He uses his platform to raise funds for good causes, and I’m always seeing twitter pics of him holding oversize checks written to some worthy organization. Good for Cam Atkinson.
Last summer, Cam also helped raise over $40,000 from the Force Network Fund 5K to help the @OhioHealth Foundation procure a rapid-response COVID-19 testing device.— Columbus Blue Jackets (@BlueJacketsNHL) May 18, 2021
→ https://t.co/Z4ScsQkWM6 pic.twitter.com/os707IQIsu
Everyone seems to like him, players, coaches, and interviewers alike. He never carries any drama. He’s goofy (see Carpool with the Captain on YouTube), exudes personality, and dressed up his new babies and dogs in Blue Jacket attire for Halloween. He embraces anyone new to the team, whether from a trade or up from the minors (a leadership quality Nick Foligno also has), which can be seen on the ice, on the bench, and at social events. He also appears to keep in touch and visits with players who leave the team, as evident on his social media. He supported other professional leagues in Ohio, including attending the first Columbus Crew game at their new stadium with Jack Roslovic and Kole Sherwood. Lastly, he inspires young players who may also not be monstrously tall, which in such a physical and violent sport such as hockey, cannot be underestimated. I remember in one interview, he recalled always being the best player on whichever youth team he was playing despite being the shortest, with videos of him as a child whipping down the ice.
There is no doubt that his stats from a goals scored and points per game have dropped significantly in the last two years and his shooting percentage declined into single digits. Lack of stability (aka Tort’s blender) on his forward lines has likely contributed to the decline, as has significant roster changes. He also struggled with execution. Atkinson is also 32 years old and not getting any younger. He was traded straight up for Jakob Voracek, a name well known to old school CBJ fans. Even though Voracek seems to be an NHL lifer, he’s actually two months younger than Cam. Although not as much of a goal scorer, he has been an assist and point machine, especially on the power play. With noted size (6’2”) and passing ability, he could help feed Patrick Laine and be a major contributor to what seems like a yearly dismal power play.
What do you think? Did a trade for Voracek make sense?