The Blue Jackets are moving quickly to solidify their core group of players, and Cam Atkinson could not be happier to be part of it.
Less than 24 hours after scoring two huge goals in a 3-1 Columbus win in Dallas that kept their playoff hopes alive, Atkinson signed a two-year extension that makes him the third Blue Jacket to do so since the April 3 trade deadline (following Mark Letestu and Matt Calvert). The 23-year-old started the season on a red-hot pace with the Springfield Falcons, and once recalled to Columbus following the NHL lockout, worked his way into a prominent role with the Blue Jackets.
His eight goals and eight assists in 34 games this season have, for the most part, been key goals in hockey games. Considering the reputation Atkinson built for scoring clutch goals while at Boston College, it's not much of a surprise but he hopes it's just the tip of iceberg in his young NHL career.
"I'm so excited to be part of this group for the next two years and build on the good things we've done so far," Atkinson told BlueJackets.com. "I know it sounds cliche and everyone keeps saying it, but it's so true. The camaraderie and trust that we've built with each other is amazing."
Missing a chunk of the season due to an ankle injury (13 games from Jan. 24-Feb.18) was compounded by having to sit and watch one of his team's toughest stretches, but Atkinson played through excruciating pain at times and solidified the Jackets' top six group of forwards upon his return.
And in a wild, unpredictable season of 48 games in 99 days, Atkinson said he feels most fortunate to be able to contribute at a time when the Blue Jackets are playing playoff games on a nightly basis in the Western Conference race.
The contract extension and the security that comes with it are bonuses, he said, because continuing to be part of what's building in Columbus is what he is most looking forward to.
"In this shortened season, you never know how every player is going to hold up and anything can happen," Atkinson said. "I was hurt (earlier in the year), so obviously I wasn't able to put up the numbers I wanted to but I still have huge goals for myself - not just this year but the next two years.
"I can't wait to continue to develop here and be part of this community...with his new legacy that Jarmo and JD are building here, like the other guys said, I'm excited to be one of the bricks they're building with and they believe in."
The attitude and confidence the Blue Jackets are playing with right now began to foster very early in the season, Atkinson said, at a time when most in the hockey world had them pegged for another top draft pick and finish near the bottom of the league.
Since the turn of March, all they've done is go 18-5-5 and vault from last place in the conference to tie (in points) with eighth-place Minnesota, putting them very much in the hunt for a postseason spot.
"Everyone keeps asking 'what's your secret?' or what the magic is we have going on, but truthfully, it's that we all believe and we believed from day one," Atkinson said. "Even when times were tough at the beginning of the season and we were losing one-goal games, we were still in every single game and we knew that we have a group here that can achieve the goals we set.
"We turned the page in the second half and we've proven pretty much everyone in the league wrong."
There is a big-picture element to the contract extension, Atkinson said, and it's the excitement stemming from being part of the new age in Columbus.
"It's crazy and it's been so awesome," Atkinson said of the Blue Jackets' turnaround season. "When we walk around town, people recognize us and are talking about the games. They've joined the battle with us.
"I'm excited to watch this team and organization grow, to be a playoff-caliber team every single year and go for the Stanley Cup."