Was there a bright spot for the Flyers in 2021-22? If there was, there’s a strong argument to be made that it was Cam Atkinson.
Atkinson came in hot—repping Gritty shirts and hyping up Philadelphia. He was acquired in a 1-for-1 trade that sent Jakub Voráček to Columbus in what is, at this point, the only trade that has worked out for Chuck Fletcher, or at least is not a clear negative. If anything, it’s kind of a wash. Atkinson finished with 50 points in 73 games—just 2 off Travis Konecny’s team lead in 6 less games—compared to Voráček’s 62 points in 79 games. But the Flyers were looking to swap out some playmaking for some scoring, and Atkinson’s 23 goals and 331 shots on goal definitely fit that bill, especially with Voráček netting just 6 goals on 147 shots.
He was second on the team in goals and first in 5-on-5 goals. The Flyers only scored one less goal at even strength this year with Atkinson on the ice than they allowed, something that feels like a miracle on a team that, at -52 at even strength, was one of the worst even strength teams in the entire league.
He was ultimately named the team’s most valuable player as voted on by the writers and broadcasters and awarded the Bobby Clarke Trophy. Atkinson is the first player since Chris Pronger in 2009-10 to win the award in his first year with the team.
A sixth round draft pick in 2008, Atkinson came to the Flyers after a full decade with Columbus, the team that drafted him. His output this year fell pretty much in line with his other seasons in his 30s, if not slightly better. In the last two abbreviated seasons, he had 0.8 and 0.9 goals per 60 minutes, respectively; this year that rate rose to 1.0. Similarly, his points per 60 rose from 2.0 and 1.9 in those years to 2.3 this year.
Atkinson’s scoring prowess—which, to be clear, is only impressive because almost nobody else had any—may have come with a little luck, though. That previously mentioned ratio—58 even strength goals scored to 59 allowed—didn’t bare out in what was expected according to Natural Stat Trick’s expected goals statistic. The Flyers finished with 41.86 expected even strength goals in Atkinson’s ice time to 58.51 against.
His aggressiveness with the puck in the offensive zone and opportunistic play—he led the team with 10 rush attempts and an improved shooting percentage over his final two Blue Jacket season—helped buoy his scoring and he remained fairly lucky on the defensive side of the puck. What’s remarkable about the amount of good luck that he had, though, is that he was basically the only Flyer that had any of it in 2021-22. It constantly felt like whatever line Atkinson was on was the one line that was clicking at any point during the season; he was basically the only player who didn’t feel like he was snake-bitten for long stretches or hampered by injury (even though he actually was). It’s almost like the malaise of being a Flyer in this era had not quite swallowed him up.
We’ll see how long that lasts.
* All stats via Natural Stat Trick and Hockey-reference.com.