When John Tortorella joined the Blue Jackets as head coach on Oct. 21, he had heard Cam Atkinson’s name, but admittedly knew nothing else about him.
After coaching the 26-year-old for 18 games, Tortorella is pretty pleased with the player that he has come to know.
“The style of play we want to play I think fits him perfectly,” Tortorella told BlueJackets.com. “He gets to pucks – he can get to pucks quicker than some other guys because he’s so quick, he’s not only fast but he’s quick. He’s ‘around it.'”
This season, Atkinson has scored six goals with nine assists and climbed to fifth on the team in total points.
Among Blue Jackets forwards who have played at least 10 games, Atkinson ranks third in even strength points per 60 minutes on the team at 1.88. He’s scoring overall at a rate of 2.3 points per 60 minutes – the highest for the Boston College alum since joining the league five seasons ago.
“Cam has always been a great player and getting to those places around the net and finding ways to make things happen in front of the net,” said center Ryan Johansen. “He’s a big contributor in our offense and our team – we’ll need that moving forward.”
And that offensive skill was on display Friday when, during the Blue Jackets' first overtime appearance of the season, Atkinson netted the game winner against the Pittsburgh Penguins by finishing off a brilliant pass from Brandon Dubinsky.
Dubinsky and Atkinson rate as the player each other has spent the most time on ice with during their careers in Columbus. Their knowledge of each other's games is comprehensive and that led to some high praise Friday night.
“(Atkinson) is playing really well,” Dubinsky said. “He buries the game winner on a one-timer, a guy like that…you just want to try to give him the puck as much as you can. I’m happy for him.”
Atkinson describes his game as “speed and anticipating chances,” and his offensive ability has been on display for some time. He currently is second among all Blue Jackets forwards in even strength Corsi For (shot attempts) with 51.13 percent.
WATCH: ATKINSON SHORTHANDED GOAL VS. VANCOUVER
He’s currently on pace to score 21 goals and 31 assists, even with a 9.1 shooting percentage that is slightly lower than his career average of 9.94 percent.
But there is another aspect of Atkinson’s game that has blossomed under his new head coach.
“A thing I’ve noticed a lot about Cam in the last chunk of games is his defensive play,” Johansen said. “It’s very noticeable to a teammate when a guy works that hard away from the puck.
“I’ve really enjoyed watching how he’s played away from the puck and in the neutral zone, in the defensive zone and blocking shots – he’s been a huge two-way player for us.”
Atkinson’s defensive abilities reflect in that he’s currently posting the second-lowest percentage of shot attempts against (even strength) of his career at 49.8 percent. His previous best had been 47.8 percent in 2012-13.
It’s also indicative of the trust Tortorella has put in Atkinson to play responsibly in all three zones. Atkinson’s average time on ice per game has stayed relatively consistent compared to last year at 16:41 per game versus 16:59 last season.
On special teams, while his power play time has also stayed consistent at 2:14 per game, Atkinson is spending an average of 1:45 per game on the penalty kill compared to just :58 last year.
That’s good enough for fifth among Jackets forwards this season.
“He’s tenacious,” Tortorella said. “You can see that I’m using him in all situations (including) killing penalties. I think he’s willing. He’s an important guy in the way we want to play in pursuing pucks and pressure. He’s done a really good job with that.”
As Atkinson stood in his locker Friday night, he was wearing the kepi as acknowledgement from his teammates -- but Atkinson was quick to give a verbal tip of the cap right back to his coach and his teammates, who he calls his his brothers.
“It’s great. It seems like (Tortorella) has been trusting me a lot as of late and I'm just trying to play my game, and play hard for him,” Atkinson said. “We’re all playing hard for each other.”
NOTE: All statistics from NHL.com and war-on-ice.com.