While several Blue Jackets players skated this week to get back into "game shape," Cam Atkinson has been there for months.
After a spectacular end to his rookie season with the Blue Jackets (in which he was recalled from Springfield as the AHL's top goal scorer), Atkinson began the 2012-13 season with the Falcons when the NHL lockout began. He was on the top line of a Springfield club under the direction of first year head coach Brad Larsen, and also a club that got off to a sterling start and currently leads the Northeast Division by eight points.
Ryan Johansen, Jonathan Audy-Marchessault and Atkinson started the season as the No. 1 unit but quickly dispersed on to separate lines to balance out scoring, and it only made Springfield stronger. The Falcons have one of the AHL's top offenses and with its young guys clicking right off the bat, made life easier for the defense and goaltending.
But now Atkinson is part of the Blue Jackets, and has another legitimate chance to crack the NHL roster as Training Camp presented by OhioHealth begins today at the OhioHealth Ice Haus. With 33 games already under his belt, Atkinson thinks the players recalled from Springfield have the early advantage in a compacted schedule.
"I definitely think it's an advantage for the guys who were in the AHL," Atkinson told BlueJackets.com. "For me, personally, I feel like I'm in mid-season form. I'm happy with where my endurance is, and I'm good to go with other things like stickhandling and game speed so all I really have to do is break in some new equipment and we're set."
One particular advantage is the structural and system details that new players will be learning once camp begins. Larsen has implemented a style very similar to what Todd Richards runs in Columbus, so players coming up from the AHL shouldn't have much catching up to do once they hit the ice.
Larsen has also demanded accountability from day one, and Atkinson said the Falcons players are expected to arrive at the rink each day with a blue-collar work ethic.
"I think one of the best things that Larse does is keep everyone in really good shape," Atkinson said. "We never have an easy day, even if it's off the ice. That's been one of the reasons why we've had so much success down there."
And while it's every hockey player's dream to be called up to the show, Atkinson admitted there are mixed emotions when leaving a place like Springfield where he's learned to become a professional. There are teammates, families and relationships left behind, but bittersweet is quickly washed out when considering the destination.
"My number one goal is to be in the NHL, and it always has been," Atkinson said. "It's a little sad to leave some of the guys in Springfield because we've been together since the start of the season, and you get to know their wives, their kids and you bond with them throughout the year.
"But this is where I want to be, and I couldn't be happier to be here."