Thanks (in part) to the inevitable Rick Nash trade, the Columbus Blue Jackets will likely spend the start to next season figuring out where their offense will come from. We won’t know who comes back in the Nash trade or what kind of firepower might come from the draft, but there might be an answer hiding in plain sight on the roster right now. His name is Cam Atkinson.
This revelation probably doesn’t seem shocking to the attentive Blue Jackets fans in the audience. After all, he made a splash at the end of the year, scoring a hat trick on April 5th and sparking Twitter-based coverage of the “Camsanity.” But it’s what led up to this offensive outburst and the underlying numbers that makes me even more optimistic for his future.
Atkinson started his (thus-far) remarkable career with the Boston College Eagles, where he led the team in goals and points for each of his final two years. That torrid pace was good enough for first in the NCAA in goals in 09-10, and second in 10-11. That’s a remarkable feat, made even more impressive by his NCAA championship with BC in 2010. Quite simply, Atkinson was a force for his final two college years. But with many smaller forwards, questions remained about his transition from the NCAA world to the AHL or the NHL. Would he be able to achieve similar levels of scoring success?
The answer was a resounding “yes” once Cam joined the Springfield Falcons. Atkinson’s AHL production (to date) was 31 goals and 17 assists in 56 games. Just this year alone, Atkinson was third on the Falcons in scoring and first in goals despite having played only 51 games (the rest of his time was spent with Blue Jackets). While work has been done to predict NHL production from AHL results, we’re not going to strictly observe those correlations here (but feel free to delve into that further; those links feature some fascinating articles), it is notworthy that a rookie player fell just outside the top-10 in AHL goal production with a lower game count. It’s clear that Cam didn’t fall off from his college skill when faced with tougher opposition.
And while Atkinson’s NCAA and AHL production are cause for optimism, his NHL output is particularly exciting. I must add that there’s a slight caution in the small sample size involved and the relatively meaningless late-season games. But the particular type of execution is still noteworthy.
Let’s dive into some numbers from Behind the Net. Atkinson had a net-positive shot differential with a Corsi Rel of +11.7. That’s higher than anybody on the Blue Jackets except for Vinny Prospal. For reference, Dan Sedin has a Corsi Rel of +22.5 to lead all forwards with more than 20 games played this season. Equally impressive is that Atkinson accomplished this feat facing some of the toughest opponents of all Blue Jackets players. His Corsi Rel QoC (a measure of quality of competition) was a staggering +1.125, fifth on the team. (More reference values: Nash had a Corsi Rel QoC of 1.132, Shea Weber a 1.349).
So Atkinson was generating plenty of opportunities and dominating puck possession despite facing a very high level of opposition. His actual production was also quite high. His goals per 60 minutes was the best on the team at 1.08. The next closest was Rick Nash with 1.07 (and the NHL high was Steven Stamkos with 1.89). Of course, those values might seem falsely inflated due to his two-game eruption at the end of the year (5 goals in two game at the end of the season). But one last noteworthy advanced statistic suggests that his net production actually fit his overall play.
PDO (a measure of puck luck) is the sum of on-ice shooting percentage and on-ice save percentage and tends toward 1000. Values over 1000 suggest that the player was statistically lucky and his scoring was unsustainable, values under 1000 suggest a lack of puck luck. Atkinson had a PDO of 999, meaning that he was essentially at average luck for the year: he wasn’t getting exceptionally lucky or unlucky with his overall shooting % production. That means what we saw (in total) wasn’t out of the ordinary; Atkinson can be reasonably predicted to have a similar scoring rate next year (we cannot change his odds, but we should not expect a drastic loss or gain in production, barring any off-season injuries/improvements).
Cam Atkinson had a luck-neutral year with a great NHL goal scoring rate in his 27 game stint with the Blue Jackets. Given his scoring production in the context of his quality of competition, Atkinson’s leap to the NHL should be considered a success and I look forward to seeing what happens next year. As he continues to acclimate to the level of talent around him (and against him) his ice time should increase and his net scoring should also see a bump. I don’t think it’s a stretch to see him as a legitimate top-six forward in the next two years. I look forward to Cam’s (together with Johansen or Brassard) growth in play and his permanent role with the Blue Jackets. Ladies and gentlemen, the Camsanity might actually be justified.