Cam Atkinson shines at All-Star Game
Blue Jackets forward has five points for Metropolitan Division, blast in Los Angelesby Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / NHL.com Columnist
LOS ANGELES -- The significance of the moment was not lost on Cam Atkinson.
Here he was skating out for introductions at the 2017 Honda NHL All-Star Game at Staples Center on Sunday. To his left stretched most of the 100 Greatest NHL Players presented by Molson Canadian, standing resplendent in the jerseys of their former teams.
Slowly, he worked his way down the line, bumping fists and shaking hands with the likes of Mario Lemieux and Bobby Orr and Brian Leetch and Joe Sakic. Finally, he took his place -- his rightful place -- among the all-stars and soaked it in.
"That was definitely the highlight for sure," Atkinson said. "That was so special. As slow as I was going, it seemed like it happened too fast."
Video: MET@ATL: Atkinson stuffs puck in after slick move
Then the Columbus Blue Jackets right wing helped the Metropolitan Division win the 3-on-3 tournament, with two goals and two assists in a 10-6 win against the Atlantic Division in the semifinal, and a goal in a 4-3 win against the Pacific Division in the final.
No one in the tournament had more than Atkinson's three goals or five points. He could have been the most valuable player but wasn't upset the award went to Philadelphia Flyers right wing Wayne Simmonds, who once played for the Los Angeles Kings and scored three goals.
"I'm just happy we won," Atkinson said. "That's all that matters. You see the guys on the bench all celebrating after every goal. It was definitely special to be a part of."
Atkinson originally wasn't supposed to be a part of it. It wasn't that he was undeserving; he was definitely deserving. It was that there were only 11 roster spots for each division, six for forwards; that each team needed to be represented; and that the competition was stiff, especially in the Metro, the strongest division in the League this season.
While teammates Sergei Bobrovsky and Seth Jones were headed to Los Angeles, Atkinson and five other Blue Jackets were headed to New York for the All-Star break, knowing they were practicing there Monday and playing the Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday (7 p.m. ET; MSG 2, FS-O, NHL.TV).
Video: MET@ATL: Atkinson pots empty-netter for his second
Then, at 11 p.m. Wednesday, Atkinson received a call from Columbus general manager Jarmo Kekalainen.
"I tell everyone that I knew I was getting traded or I was getting the nod," Atkinson said.
Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin had pulled out of the All-Star Game because of a lower-body injury. Atkinson was getting the nod.
This recognition was a reward for a guy who was selected in the sixth round (No. 157) of the 2008 NHL Draft because he was 5-foot-8, a guy who has played at an elite level all his life but has had to keep proving himself, and proving himself, and proving himself.
Atkinson excelled at Boston College, excelled in parts of two seasons with Springfield of the American Hockey League and excelled in his first three full seasons with Columbus, producing offensive numbers at each stop.
Now, at age 27, he has taken a leap under coach John Tortorella, who has played him more in all situations, put him in the left circle on the power play with his right-handed shot, and found a balance between showing confidence in him and challenging him to keep improving.
Atkinson is tied for second in the League in goals with 24, trailing only Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby's 28. He's tied for 11th in points with 46. He's tied for third in shorthanded goals with two, fourth in power-play points with 19 and eighth in power-play goals with nine.
Video: MET@PAC: Atkinson races in and roofs own rebound
"He's in a situation now where he's getting a little bit of notoriety," Tortorella said recently. "He's been a pretty consistent player. Now there's more responsibility that falls on your shoulders to be better, because that's just the way it is if you're going to be a really good player in this league. That's the phase he's in, I think."
After the All-Star Game, Atkinson took his helmet around the locker room and asked his Metropolitan teammates to sign it. He did an interview with NBC. He had his teammates sign his jersey and grabbed his nameplate for a souvenir too.
The $91,000 he earned as his share of the $1 million prize that went to the winning team? He said he would use it to help pay for his wedding this summer.
Life is good.
But not good enough to be satisfied yet. Tortorella would be the first to tell him to use this as motivation to keep getting better. Atkinson is having a breakout season. So are the Blue Jackets, who were 27th in the NHL standings last season and are third now.
On to New York, a little later than planned, and the next step.
"These are the best players in the world," Atkinson said. "You have to use it and realize why you're here. You have to prove yourself every single day in this league. That's what it's such a hard league. You've got to continue."