|Atkinson (far right) scores his first NHL goal on Monday vs. Vancouver. |
Cam Atkinson could seemingly emerge from a marine layer and be in a position to score a goal.
The Blue Jackets rookie winger was arguably the club’s strongest performer in training camp and the preseason, scoring nifty goals and competing for pucks no matter where he was slotted in the lineup. Coach Scott Arniel wanted to test Atkinson and play him with experienced players in the preseason and also players with little professional experience.
Regardless of where he played, he was noticeable – in a good way. Atkinson put his mitts on display with his first NHL goal in the Blue Jackets’ 3-2 loss to the Vancouver Canucks Monday night at Nationwide Arena. He began the game playing with center Derek MacKenzie and Matt Calvert in an attempt to generate some early energy for the Blue Jackets.
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The play that created Atkinson’s first big-league goal was similar to many of the 68 goals he scored in three seasons at Boston College: some hard work on the wall by MacKenzie enabled Atkinson to free himself up in the slot.
All it took was a split-second for Atkinson’s trademark release to snap a wrist shot through the legs of Canucks goaltender Cory Schneider at 8:42 of the first period – something he will never forget.
“It felt good,” Atkinson said after the game. “It was nice to get the monkey off my back, but it was a tough way to go out.”
Atkinson began the season on a line with Antoine Vermette and R.J. Umberger, but after a loss Saturday night in Minnesota, Arniel elected to try different line combinations in an effort to get a fast-paced forecheck going against Vancouver. It’s early, but Atkinson liked the way his line put pressure on the Canucks Monday night.
“I felt good out there, I was just trying to create energy for the guys on the bench and use my speed to my advantage,” Atkinson said.
“It felt good (to play with Calvert and MacKenzie); like I said from day one, if you put any match up together, it’s going to be a good lineup. Mac made a great play for the goal.”
Tenacity on the puck is a characteristic that has been part of his repertoire since his early days playing hockey as a youngster, growing up in Riverside, Conn. Like many hockey-playing kids growing up in New England, he wanted the chance to play for Boston College and be part of coach Jerry York’s storied program.
Arniel emphatically stated during training camp that Atkinson’s size would not limit his effectiveness at the NHL level. On each shift, Atkinson is the first player on the forecheck and in a position to make a play on the puck.
Impact players have a way of translating and upping their game at each level of hockey, and that’s true of Atkinson, as well. His breakout season at Boston College was his sophomore season in 2009-10 when he scored 30 goals in 42 games – an increase of 23 goals from his first year. He signed a two-year contract with the Blue Jackets in March 2011 and reported to Springfield (AHL), where he went on to record three goals and five total points in five games with the Falcons.
When Arniel saw the Canucks use three lines exclusively protecting a one-goal lead, he made sure he got Atkinson on the ice even if it was not with his regular line mates.
“When we got down a goal in the last 10 minutes, we put him out there with Matty and Sammy to create some offense,” Arniel said. “Cam was good - in limited ice (Monday night) those guys scored a big goal for us.”