Flyers’ Atkinson sets foundation for mid-December success

Note: if you purchase something through one of our affiliate links, Schneps Media may earn a commission.
Flyers' Atkinson celebrates against Anaheim.
Philadelphia Flyers right wing Cam Atkinson (89) celebrates with teammates after scoring during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Anaheim Ducks in Anaheim, Calif., Friday, Nov. 10, 2023. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

Cam Atkinson is a forward built to custom-fit a John Tortorella lineup. 

He finds a way to get in on the attack, contributes to an elite penalty kill, and is a leader in a locker room full of belief. Atkinson is an unselfish player with a great work ethic and a high motor; a valuable, hard-working middle-six forward.

Atkinson, who missed last season due to a herniated disc and a tricep muscle atrophy, returned with poise. Like his teammate, Sean Couturier, after he took his first hit, he was mentally able to get over the anxiety of how his body would respond. That moment occurred in Columbus, where Atkinson would be responsible for the game-winner against his former club of a decade:

“I’m excited to be back with the boys, and a little icing on the cake that it’s here in Columbus.”

Cam Atkinson; 10/12/2023

By his own admission, Atkinson feels as good as he has in a long time. He and the rest of the locker room entered the season with a chip on the shoulder. Wearing that chip helped Atkinson to a hot start. He tallied nine points (6G, 3A) by November 1st.

In fairness, his heat-check tempered. His contributions to the lineup offer more than point production, however. Atkinson regained chemistry with Couturier, working him to speed while simultaneously building rapport with Owen Tippett.

“It was only a matter of time until he [Tippett] broke out, especially. He’s so highly skilled, especially him playing his off wing. He’s getting more and more comfortable out there. Hopefully we continue to get better, build our chemistry, and build our confidence.”

Cam Atkinson; 10/19/2023

A requirement for the Philadelphia Flyers is checking. Atkinson excels in that aspect, earning his role because he is trusted to push back and slow pace, and he exhibits this skill against top teams like the Los Angeles Kings and the Vegas Golden Knights. Another prerequisite is trusting the process and buying in. When pucks didn’t find the back of the net, though the chances were there, Atkinson advocated for patience.

“One of my biggest things I always say to everyone, ‘if we’re getting chances, we’re doing the right things, they’re going to go in.’ It’s when you start cheating and thinking that you’re going to get chances, and it’s in the back of our net, but we have a lot of great players on our team, whether you’re a young guy or a little bit older.”

Cam Atkinson; 11/1/2023

Before brighter days, the Flyers lost to, at the time, a winless San Jose Sharks team. A great sign of leadership is not allowing yourself or your team to get too low. Instead, Atkinson answered with four points (2G, 2A) during a five-game winning streak. Philadelphia practiced the patience he preached, putting them on their hottest track after they were at their lowest.

Since then, he contributed two assists in the last nine games. His latest set up Joel Farabee for a tip-in goal against the Arizona Coyotes.

Atkinson celebrates with Farabee after dishing the assist against the Arizona Coyotes.
Philadelphia Flyers left wing Joel Farabee (86) celebrates after his goal against Arizona Coyotes goaltender Connor Ingram (39) with Flyers right wing Cam Atkinson (89) during the first period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, Dec. 7, 2023, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Despite cooling off with the puck, his play away from the puck keeps him in a top-six role. There will be inconsistencies, but consider his weight in gold. Atkinson helps elevate his linemates by creating scoring chances from the boards via loose pucks, turnovers, and rebounds. Tortorella is happy with the way he plays against the top-six forwards on opposing teams with Scott Laughton and Farabee:

“I think that line of him [Farabee], Laughts [Laughton], and Cam [Atkinson] have been inconsistent a little bit in our endzone at times because I’ve used Couts’ [Couturier] line, and I’ve used that line against top-six forwards against the opposition. There’s been some struggle and inconsistencies; they were better the other night against Colorado. For the most part, I’ve been happy.”

John Tortorella; 12/11/2023

So, what to do with Atkinson? He has a clear, real value to the Flyers lineup and formula that keeps them in the NHL Stanley Cup Playoff hunt in mid-December. When he produces points, he gets a little streaky, and if he isn’t, then you cannot deny his contributions on the penalty kill and, to a different extent, the powerplay.

Daniel Briere is going to be assertive and listen to all offers. Hardly anyone believed Philadelphia would overachieve the way they are, even if Tortorella has a reputation for squeezing the most out of his roster. That dynamic changes everything. Atkinson, a very competitive leader with the complete trust of the bench boss, is one of the pronounced foundations critical to the rebuild.

His contract ends at the end of the 2024-2025 season. Briere and Tortorella could be wise if they choose to let Atkinson help lead and mold the Flyers.

(AP Photo/Ashley Landis)