Third-round NHL draft picks do not become available to Junior A hockey clubs often, but one of those opportunities came about recently for Powell River Kings.
The team acquired Matt Cairns, a native of Mississauga, Ontario, and the Edmonton Oilers’ third-round draft pick, 84th overall, in last year’s National Hockey League entry draft, just before the BC Hockey League (BCHL) trade deadline of January 10.
According to The Hockey News, which called Cairns “Georgetown’s hidden gem” after his 2015/2016 season with the Ontario Junior Hockey League’s Georgetown Raiders, the 18-year-old defender is big (six foot, two inches; 205 pounds) and fast, with great skating ability and offensive skills impossible to ignore. However, sometimes he tries to do too much.
“That’s one of my knocks,” said Cairns. “I’ve been trying to work on that a lot, keeping the game simple, enjoying it every day, just coming to the rink and wanting to get better.”
Kings head coach Kent Lewis said he thinks Cairns is a sound player and shows great understanding of the game and of himself as a young player.
“Kids just have to define themselves,” said Lewis. “In general, when defenders try to do too much they put themselves in trouble.”
There was never a defender who kept it more simple, Lewis said, than Brad Bombardir, who played for Powell River in 1988/1989 and 1989/1990 when the team was called the Paper Kings.
The longest tenured NHL player to come out of the Kings’ program, Powell River’s own Bombardir played for New Jersey Devils, where he won a Stanley Cup, Minnesota Wild and Nashville Predators in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
After the BCHL season ends, Cairns is committed to Cornell University; the school is ranked 15th in National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I.
Defenders take longer to develop as players and Cairns said the remaining games he has with the Kings, and four years at Cornell, will help with that development and in accomplishing his dream.
“I want to be an NHL player,” he said. “Balancing school and hockey is something I know I can do. This path can lead me to being a professional hockey player.”
Cairns said he will study economics at university, which will allow him to broaden the idea of what he wants to do academically.
“My hockey complements my academics,” he said. “Every time you come to work you want to do well. Through schoolwork and growing up, I’ve always been a good student. Everything I do, I want to do it well. That translates from my school to my hockey. I want to do well in school so I can do well in hockey.”
Three other Kings are also committed to Cornell: Kyle Betts, Cam Donaldson and Tristan Mullin. Through talking to those players and team coaches, Cairns learned about the Kings’ program and Powell River.
“I definitely heard about the place and how great the BCHL is,” he said. “I knew this would be best for my development going into school next year.“
Before heading to the Ivy League, in addition to continuing his development as a hockey player while with the Kings, Cairns has one goal on his mind.
“I’m here to win a championship with the team,” said Cairns, who speaks from experience, having won an OJHL championship with Toronto Patriots in 2014.