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Columbus winger Cam Atkinson is ready to step into the spotlight this season.
Cam Atkinson is one of the best young offensive forwards in hockey. However, because of where he plays, he hasn't received a lot of leaguewide attention through his first few years in the league. A few injuries along the way have also derailed what has been a very solid first two seasons as a Blue Jacket for the former Boston College star.
On the surface, Atkinson may be in tough to earn a lot of ice time, as he is stuck behind Nathan Horton and Marian Gaborik on the Columbus right wing depth chart. But let's dig a little deeper to see why Atkinson will find a way to be a productive forward in 2013 - regardless of which offensive unit he ends up playing on.
Reason #1 - Talent
The deck is usually stacked against 5-8 late round draft picks, but Atkinson has been proving people wrong his entire career. He was an offensive dynamo in college, and made quick work of the AHL after turning professional. Atkinson scored 29 goals in 51 AHL games in 2011-12, and he had 17 goals and 38 points in 31 AHL games during the lockout. He proved quite quickly to be an offensive force at that level, and the Jackets gave him an opportunity to prove his stuff in the NHL.
Atkinson had nine goals and 18 points in 35 games in the NHL this past season before suffering a sprained ankle. He averaged only 1:19 per game on the PP, and that number will increase significantly both this season and in future seasons (top line wingers typically fall in the two or three-plus minute range... and Atkinson is well on his way to emerging as a top line winger for the Jackets). His 10.87 shots on goal per 60 minutes led all Columbus skaters in 2013, and he was third on the roster in points per 60 minutes of ice time. He's been productive when given the opportunity to play, and with more ice time he will see more opportunities to produce.
Reason #2 - Work ethic
At each level of hockey along the way, Atkinson has had to work that much harder than his peers because of his lack of height. All else equal, scouts and coaches favour bigger and taller players. This isn't as much of a set rule as it used to be before the obstruction crackdown, but it is still a line of thinking that is followed in the hockey world.
Atkinson spends his summers working out in Connecticut with renowned hockey trainer Ben Prentiss. Prentiss trains several high profile NHL players, including another player who has had to overcome a lack of height in his career - Marty St. Louis. According to Prentiss, Atkinson is one of the fittest players in the gym, and his strength is very impressive. A lack of height can be easily overcome with work ethic and talent, and like St. Louis, Atkinson has both of these in spades. Having a guy like St. Louis to look up to and to learn from will undoubtedly help Atkinson thrive in the NHL - there aren't many better role models for maximizing talent with work ethic.
Prentiss on Atkinson's ankle rehab, as well as his overall strength:
I would say he is 100 percent. That has not been an issue whatsoever. We typically, in my programs anyway, I am an advocate on certain things that people leave out -neck, ankle, we incorporate prehabilitative stuff at the end of each workout.
We have been doing that and he hasn’t had any issues.
He is one guy who full cleans, I think, 120 [kilograms] the other day. Full clean from the floor.
Again, context. 120kg is about 270 pounds. Atkinson weighs almost 100 pounds less than that.
Reason #3 - Better talent around him
Atkinson really thrived on a line last season with Matt Calvert and Brandon Dubinsky. The Jackets may keep the trio together to start 2013-14 (potentially as the second line while Horton rehabs from off-season shoudler surgery). Having chemistry with linemates could help Atkinson get out to a quick start, but don't be surprised to see him move over to the left side at some point to play with Gaborik and/or Horton on the top unit (likely centered by Artem Anisimov).
Atkinson is simply too good of a player to play line three minutes, even if he sees prime power play opportunities.
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