Every season, the OJHL seems to be filled with a defensive prospect or two that specializes more in helping out his team off the scoreboard. Someone who stands out on the ice, but maybe doesn’t put up the numbers to help add to their status. The league tends to find a few diamonds in the rough that may not want to go to the OHL and instead would prefer working on their education.
Mat Cairns is one of those guys you need to watch.
Cairns has been an interesting player to follow over the past few seasons, especially after deciding to not join the Peterbourgh Petes after the OHL team drafted him back in 2014. Beforehand, he skated for the legendary Toronto Marlboros of the GTHL, scoring eight goals and 17 points in 33 games for the team that went on to win the massive OHL Cup championship.
Cairns made the jump to Junior A with the Toronto Patriots last season, skating as a top four defenseman on a team that looked unbeatable on most nights. Replacing Dallas Stars prospect Michael Prapavesis as the top stud defenseman on the Patriots, Cairns posted ten points for the team loaded with talent at every position while acting more as a dominant force in his own zone. His play was a big reason why the Patriots went on to not only win the Ontario Junior A Hockey League championship, but to finish it off with a spot in the Ontario provincial Junior A championships, the Dudley Hewitt Cup.
2015-2016 has been a tremendous season for the Mississauga, Ontario native. With the Patriots doing a fire sale with their roster, Cairns found himself patrolling the blue line with the mighty Georgetown Raiders, easily one of the better teams in the league. In 46 games with the Raiders, Cairns posted 30 points, a respectful number for a guy who isn’t needed to bring much offensively from the point.
His play throughout the year brought a ton of accolades to his name. First, Cairns patrolled Team Canada East’s back end for the World Junior A Challenge in December, a performance that seemed to be panned by scouts in attendance. Still, that wouldn’t defer Cornell University from signing the stud defenseman to a deal for 2017-2018, who was reported to have had offers from top schools Harvard, Providence and RPI before making his decision. To top things off, Cairns finished the OJHL regular season by being named to the 1st All-Prospect Team, named to the best 1998 and 1999-born players in the league.
A big-bodied, big-minute blue line cruncher, Cairns has the ability to quarter-back a power-play and put up solid offensive numbers, mostly in the assist column. However, he’s much more effective acting as a quiet, shutdown defenseman, so he isn’t the guy you’d rely on to score a big goal from the point in the final game of the Stanley Cup Finals. Instead, the reigning OJHL champion can move the puck around in any zone without losing focus and never seems to get rattled, despite being physical at times.
Cairns could very likely hear his name in the NHL Draft this year, with the future NCAA blue liner expected to be chosen a little later in the selection period. Cairns has done a lot in his short time in junior hockey, and almost always seems to be a constant talking point for media and scouts watching him ply his craft at Alcott Arena in Georgetown. Cairns always looks poised when he hits the ice and does a great job of making his presence known in his own zone. Due to the OJHL being more of a second-tier league, Cairns could end up being a reliable sleeper pick as the draft goes on in June, and if he does get looked over, watch for him to get invited to a training camp regardless.
Steven is a junior hockey reporter for the Oakville Blades of the Ontario Junior Hockey League, and also focuses on international hockey for his website, TheHockeyHouse.net. You can follow Steven on twitter, @StevenEllisNHL.