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Atkinson's 500th game another milestone for Blue Jackets star

John Tortorella: "I'm not sure there's a more important guy on our club"

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider / BlueJackets.com

Early in Tuesday's game against Washington, the Nationwide Arena scoreboard showed the above graphic celebrating Cam Atkinson's 500th game with the team, then cut to the Blue Jackets' longtime forward on the bench. 

Hockey player protocol in such cases is to play it cool, and Atkinson tried to do just that. 

Until Nick Foligno yelled down the bench. 

"Fliggy told me to wave, so I gave a little fist bump," Atkinson said. "Kind of hit the panic button." 

Watch: Cam Atkinson Video Board Recognition

To the Blue Jackets captain, Atkinson acknowledging the crowd was only fitting.  

"I was like, 'Come on. You have to give the fans a little wave,'" Foligno said before giving his longest-tenured teammate some ribbing. "They cheer for him. I don't know why but they cheer for him. 

"Nah, it's awesome. It's so great. What he means to this organization, especially as he's grown as a player and a leader on this team, it's great to see him continue to hit milestones. When you look back and look at the impact you're going to make in this organization, you're going to see Cam on top of the record books." 

In fact, Atkinson is well on his way. He is now just the sixth player to suit up in 500 games as a Blue Jacket, joining Rick Nash (674), Fedor Tyutin (553), David Vyborny (543), Jared Boll (518) and Rostislav Klesla (515). He's second all-time in goals (176) and points (327) in team history behind only Nash in each category. 

Here's to the next 500 #CBJ 🏒

A post shared by camatkinson13 (@camatkinson13) on

Looking forward, it appears likely Atkinson will finish his career in union blue, with a good chance to reach 1,000 games in the capital city since he's signed through 2024-25. With a no-trade clause in his deal, Atkinson seems ticketed to spend his entire career with the team that took a chance on him. 

"I think that's always been my dream, my goal," Atkinson said. "Especially with the team that drafted me to start my career and finish my career here, hopefully it works out. Obviously that's one of the end goals, right? But I'm living in the present now." 

In the present, he's one of the most dependable and exciting Blue Jackets -- "a superstar in this league," as Foligno said. This year, he's on a torrid pace, just four goals from his career high of 35 set two seasons ago. In January, he made his second All-Star appearance. 

Coaches and teammates credit Atkinson for how he's come along throughout his career. Early on, head coach John Tortorella often recalls, the peaks and valleys in Atkinson's game were more pronounced, and success could get to his head. Now, he's leveled out, bringing consistent effort, and the results have followed. 

"He's turned into a really good pro," Tortorella said. "We talk about this guy, that guy on our team, who's the most important? Cam Atkinson -- I put him in every situation. I'm not sure there's a more important guy on our club than that guy. Other than your goaltender, I'm not sure who's more important." 

Video: Cam on his 500th game

There are plenty of ways to measure the milestone and just how unlikely it is that someone who entered the league with the sixth pick of the sixth round of the 2008 draft made it this far.  

The only other sixth-round pick in Blue Jackets history to make it to 500 NHL games is Marc Methot. The only seventh-round pick to reach 500 NHL games is Derek Dorsett, and no fifth-rounder has ever reached that longevity mark (though Matt Calvert is closing in).  

Only one other player drafted in the sixth round in 2008 with Atkinson, New York Islanders pick and Minnesota Wild mainstay Jared Spurgeon, has made it to 500 games. In fact, over the 10 years of drafts from 1999 to 2008, only 17 of 303 sixth-round picks across the league have made it to 500 NHL games -- less than 6 percent. 

"No one is going to tell me what I can and cannot do, especially in hockey," Atkinson said. "I think that's fueled my fire to get to where I am today. I still have to use that as motivation and get better and continue to grow." 

Beforehand, Atkinson said it was just another game, and it was. But it also was another milestone in a career that is rapidly becoming full of them, all of them happening with the team that took a chance on the small but dedicated Boston College forward more than 10 years ago. 

"It's pretty cool to play in your first NHL game," he said. "To make it to 500 is pretty special." 

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