First-year defenceman Matthew Cairns is off to a fine start with the Toronto Patriots, registering three assists in six games.

Toronto Patriots defenceman wants to craft complete game

Rearguard Matthew Cairns looking to significantly improve before 2016 NHL draft

Matthew Cairns might be a young and inexperienced defenceman, but that does not mean he can’t be a major contributor for the Toronto Patriots of the Ontario Junior Hockey League.

The 16-year-old blue-liner is the third youngest player on his team and in his first year with Patriots.

Typically, young defencemen take more time to develop than forwards. The Mississauga native is well aware of the process despite getting off to a good start, registering three assists in six games.

“I’m working on the two-way game. I work on my game with the coaching staff and they help a lot,” said Cairns after a 6-4 victory over the North York Rangers last Saturday. “I’m looking to make my offensive instincts better but I want to be two-way as well.”

Assistant coach Derek Foam, a former OJHL defenceman, understands the patience needed to development defencemen.

“He’s a young guy with a lot of tools and a lot of talent,” said Foam. “With the youth comes youthful mistakes but that’s sort of expected.

“It’s going to be a bit of a growing experience for him. It’s still early in the season but we like what we have seen from him so far and we see a lot of potential.”

“It’s going to be a bit of a growing experience for him. It’s still early in the season but we like what we have seen from him so far and we see a lot of potential.”

—Derek Foam, Patriots assistant coach

The six-foot-two, 190-pound defender won the Ontario Hockey League Cup Showcase with his minor midget Toronto Marlboros last March. The tournament features the top 20 minor midget teams from Ontario, plus some more teams from the United States. The final victory over the Toronto Jr. Canadiens just happened to come under a coach with a Hall of Fame pedigree who played defence himself: Paul Coffey.

“That was an awesome experience, especially playing for a great coach like him,” said Cairns. “We worked together as a team and came out with the win.”

Win over teammate

The victory also came against current Patriots teammate Emanuel Vella. But the goaltender led the Jr. Canadiens to a Greater Toronto Hockey League Championship over Cairn’s Marlboros leading up to the Showcase.

“I wouldn’t say it was revenge, though I guess you can say we are even since we won the showcase [game] while they won the GTHL Cup,” said Cairns. “He’s a great goalie and he definitely helped out their team, which is why they won the GTHL playoffs.”

Cairns tied for second in the tournament in points by a defenceman with five (one goal, four assists) in seven games. His play led him to be drafted by the Peterborough Petes in the third round (48th overall) in the OHL Priority Selection this past April.

It’s still uncertain if he will be called up to by the Petes at some point this season, or if that will come in 2015-16.

“I’m not sure about that yet, we’ll see how it goes throughout the year,” said Cairns. “I know I’m at a great spot and if I don’t get called up I’ll keep playing hard with the Patriots.”

Cairns is eligible to be drafted to the NHL in 2016. While many OJHL players rarely get drafted in first of eligibility, Cairns has a shot. But his main focus remains this season with the Patriots.

“Nothing really,” said Cairns when asked his position for the 2016 NHL draft. “I like to play my game and control what I can and see what happens from there.”

Foam also believes Cairns needs to worry about the present, though is optimistic on his future.

“The sky is the limit for him and it all depends what he wants to put in to it,” said Foam. “But I wouldn’t be surprised at all.”