Right winger Cam Atkinson was beloved in Columbus. Became a pillar in the community. Made two All-Star teams with the Blue Jackets. Scored more than 20 goals six straight seasons, including 41 in 2018-19.
Not bad for a player picked in the sixth round of the 2008 draft.
That player will be returning to Columbus on Thursday for the first time since he was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers in the summer.
Emotions will be high.
“I’m excited to go back to Columbus,” Atkinson said on Wednesday. “I spent 10 years there. Made a lot of friends obviously in the hockey world, and friends outside of hockey that are going to be in attendance.”
Atkinson said he was eager to “see people I haven’t seen in a long time. I’m happier that’s it’s later in the season than the start, just to kind of digest everything that has happened.”
What has happened: The Flyers, decimated by injuries and a lack of depth, have just a 22-37-11 record and will miss the playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1992-93 and 1993-94.
Don’ blame Atkinson. The 32-year-old right winger, acquired for Jake Voracek in July, leads the Flyers in goals (23), points (50), and shots (209).
Atkinson said he has talked to former Blue Jacket Nick Foligno about what it was like to get traded and return to Columbus as an opponent.
“He gave some advice to just enjoy the moment,” said Atkinson, who resides in Haddonfield but plans to live in Columbus when his career ends. “Obviously I spent a lot of time there and in the community … and hopefully it’s a good turnout and (I) get a lot of happy cheers and no boos.”
The Philadelphia Flyers are 0-2 against Columbus (33-32-6) this season, including Tuesday’s 4-2 loss at the Wells Fargo Center.
“There’s a lot of different faces on that team,” Atkinson said about the Blue Jackets. “A lot of newer faces. I know all of them, for the most part, but the core guys that were there the last five or six years are gone.”
Atkinson said he was excited to return to Nationwide Arena and see “all the people behind the scenes who go unnoticed and were a part of my career there.”
In two games against Columbus this season, Atkinson is point-less. Voracek is also pointless in the two games he has faced the Flyers. Voracek, like Atkinson, is having a good season. He is second on the team in points (51) and first in assists (46).
That has made this trade a rarity: One that has worked for both teams.
The Lehigh Valley Phantoms dropped a 3-1 decision Wednesday to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and fell nine points behind the Penguins for the last playoff spot. Hayden Hodgson scored his team-leading 19th for the Phantoms.
Martin Jones (3.38 GAA, .902 save percentage) will start for the Flyers and is expected to face Elvis Merzlikins (3.37, .904), who made 47 saves in the Blue Jackets’ 4-2 win Tuesday. … The Flyers’ power-play could finish as the worst in franchise history. It is clicking at 12.8%, which is below the all-time low of 13%. … Atkinson and Oskar Lindblom didn’t practice Wednesday, but interim coach Mike Yeo expects them to play Thursday. … After playing well in the first 40 minutes, but having a rough third period and finishing minus-4 in his NHL debut against Toronto, defenseman Ronnie Attard has played better in his last two games. Yeo likes the way he has rebounded and stayed aggressive. A lot of players would “try to play too safe, and he was the exact opposite,” Yeo said.