Future Cornell hockey defenseman Matt Cairns was selected in the third round (No. 84 overall) by the Edmonton Oilers in the 2016 NHL entry-level draft. He plans to join the Red at the beginning of the 2017-18 school year.
The six-foot-two defenseman, who announced his commitment to Cornell in September 2015, spent last year playing for the Georgetown Raiders in the Ontario Junior Hockey League. Through 46 games with the Raiders, Cairns notched nine goals and 24 assists in the regular season, with an additional 19 points coming in 22 playoff games.
“Watching the first round of the draft I got kind of anxious thinking about where I’m going to go and if I’m going to go,” Cairns said to the media after he was drafted. “It’s a huge honor to be selected by the Oilers and I’m excited to get started.”
Cairns models his game after Nashville Predators All-Star Shea Weber, who has distinguished himself as one of the premier scoring defensemen in the National Hockey League. In lieu of this, Cairns has been lauded for his speed and hockey sense on both the offensive and defensive sides of the puck.
“I think I’m a two-way defenseman,” he said. “I’d like to refine defensive skills and contribute also on the offensive side. I want to be a guy that’s able to play a lot of minutes and do whatever the team needs.”
Oilers personnel noted the Mississauga, Ontario, native’s toughness and hockey intelligence were factors in their decision to draft him.
“Big kid, good puck mover, good hockey sense,” Oilers director of player personnel Bob Green said to the media. “A little bit raw, maybe, but a big guy that can skate and move the puck.”
Raised just outside of Toronto, Cairns said he was honored to be drafted by a Canadian team with such an extensive history like the Oilers.
“Everyone knows the storied franchise they have, especially myself being a Canadian kid,” Cairns said. “To be selected by a Canadian team is absolutely amazing.”
Interestingly enough, one of Cairns’s former coaches, hall-of-famer Paul Coffey, began his 21 year career in Edmonton. Cairns says Coffey was a huge part of his development, especially when it came to skating. Coffey was a three-time Norris Trophy winner who won three Stanley Cups with the Oilers over his seven years with the team.
“I did not expect to be where I am today,” Cairns said. “I knew I had the work ethic and everything to be there, but I have to give so much credit to my coach [Coffey] … he always said to me and other guys, ‘If you can’t skate, you can’t play,’ and he developed my skating and hockey sense better. I can’t thank him enough for that.”
Between now and his start at Cornell in 2017, Cairns plans on playing for the Muskegon Lumberjacks in the United States Hockey League, where he was drafted by the Lumberjacks in the 11th round (No. 173 overall).
“That would be the plan to play there next year,” Cairns said of the Lumberjacks. “I think they do have interest for me to play and I hope to be in their plans.”
While next year he hopes to be playing in Michigan, Cairns described that his decision to go the NCAA route as opposed to junior hockey came down to more than athletics.
“I found it was best for me in the situation I was in,” Cairns said. “I have always been a good student and take pride in my studies. It gave me the chance to go to a great school like Cornell and have a chance to play in the NHL, which is my dream one day.”