It was not easy for Cam Atkinson to say goodbye to Columbus.
He had spent a decade with the Blue Jackets, a team that was birthed in 2000 and just celebrated its 20th season. In Columbus, Atkinson started a family with his wife Natalie and their two boys Declan and Caden. The 5-foot-8 winger went from a 2008 sixth-round draft pick of the Blue Jackets to becoming a face of the organization.
In the franchise's history, Atkinson ranks second in games played (627), points (402) and goals (213). No Blue Jacket has more goals (10), assists (16) or points (26) in the playoffs than Atkinson.
On a Saturday morning in July, Atkinson found out his time in Columbus was coming to an end. The Flyers acquired Atkinson in a trade as general manager Chuck Fletcher continued his active offseason by dealing Jakub Voracek to the Blue Jackets.
"It was definitely bittersweet," Atkinson said two weeks ago on NBC Sports Philadelphia's Flyers Talk podcast. "Columbus has been home for us for 10 years, have the Battery Hockey Academy, which is one of my businesses, as well, out there. We've invested so much time in Columbus. I mean, Columbus is home, really, both of our boys were born there, lifelong friendships outside of hockey, as well. As of now, we plan on going back to Columbus every summer and potentially when I'm done playing hockey for good. I know a lot can change in a short period of time, but that's our outlook right now."
Atkinson has Flyers connections. He's close with former Flyer and current analyst Scott Hartnell. Atkinson said his wife and Hartnell's wife Katie are best friends and that his 3-year-old son Declan is going to school this year with Hartnell's son Wesley. Atkinson, who was also a college teammate of Kevin Hayes, said he turned the page pretty quickly to his next chapter with the Flyers.
"You almost have to," he said. "As soon as I talked to Chuck Fletcher and the rest of the crew, just my emotions and my adrenaline and my energy, I was so excited to join not just any organization, but the Flyers — with all the history and realizing that their team is so special and the moves that they've made already to bring in some veteran guys, guys that know their roles specifically.
"I'm going to help as much as I can, any way I can and in all situations. Just that chance to win a Cup, that's what gets you most excited. Definitely looking forward to the start of it all."
Atkinson has the potential to help the Flyers in two crucial areas: scoring goals and killing penalties.
The Flyers were an inconsistent goal-scoring club last season while they allowed the NHL's most goals per game (3.52) and owned the 30th-ranked penalty kill (73.1 percent). The Flyers' PK slumped badly last season and much of it revolved around personnel. With the addition of the 32-year-old Atkinson, what the Flyers could likely benefit most from is his acumen on the PK. Atkinson has a history of keeping the opposing power play on its heels. Over the last five seasons, he's tied with Brad Marchand and Sebastian Aho for the NHL's most shorthanded goals at 12. In that same span, the Flyers are last in the NHL with 20 shorthanded markers.
"It's not a secret, I love scoring goals and I've been fortunate to do that at every level," Atkinson, who had a 41-goal season in 2018-19, said. "Just going to a new team brings me new motivation, new energy and just a fresh start — I'm just super excited about that. I like to think that I anticipate plays very well. It doesn't always work out, but most of the time it does. I just trust my gut, just playing with energy.
"There's so much skill on this team that you put me with any of these guys, I think we're going to form chemistry pretty quickly. There's no question I like to shoot the puck a lot more than passing. I know there's a lot of guys on that team that like to pass, so I'm looking forward to it. Just energy and anticipation and whatever role they want me to play, I'm going to do it to the best of my ability."
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