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FUTURE WATCH: Cairns fitting in with Powell River

Matthew Cairns is adapting to his new team and surroundings smoothly

by Paul Gazzola / EdmontonOilers.com

A change of scenery doesn't always come with a better view, but the captivating landscape of Powell River, BC is a pleasing sight for defenceman Matthew Cairns.

The Oilers 84th selection in the 2016 NHL Draft was acquired by the Powell River Kings of the British Columbia Hockey League from the United States Hockey League's (USHL) Fargo Force prior to the BCHL's January 10 trade deadline.

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When the coastal gust spread the word that things just weren't working in Fargo for Cairns, Powell River Kings Head Coach and General Manager Kent Lewis had to explore the possibility of bringing him in.

"We had caught wind that maybe things weren't working in the USHL for Matt," said Lewis. "It was brought to our attention that possibly he was maybe looking for a change."

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Six games into his tenure with the Kings, Cairns is proving that the grass is much greener on southwestern British Columbia's Sunshine Coast. The 6-foot-3 blueliner has three assists so far. In 17 games in North Dakota with Fargo, Cairns had four.

"The coaching staff and myself, we kind of mutually decided that it was best to look at other options and we felt that out here in Powell River would be a great spot," said Cairns, who previously played Junior A in the Ontario Junior Hockey League. In 99 career OJHL matches, Cairns had 43 points.

"So far it's been unbelievable."

Although he's played with a number of new defence partners, Cairns is quickly getting used to the fresh faces and surroundings.

"[He's] really adapted well to the guys and [is] well-liked," Lewis said. "Fits into our program really, really well."

The Mississauga, ON native has been deployed in various situations on the ice, including the penalty kill, power play and even strength. His ability to throw his weight around has also caught the eye of his coach.

Lewis couldn't help but marvel at the defenceman's physical edge. With hockey being played at such a high speed and with the fear of losing position to make a hit, the rough nature of the game is seemingly slowing down. That's no longer the case on the coast.

"He's got good size," the Kings' bench boss said. "He's thick; he's a big body that will also play physical and - I hate to say it - but you don't see enough of that anymore."

The praise by Lewis for his player is matched by Cairns for his coach. With the new team and league, the 18-year-old is certainly enjoying how he's being utilized. Coach Lewis presents the chance to play to all of his roster - the defencemen, especially.

"it just seems like everybody wants to play for him, he gives everybody the opportunity," Cairns said.

That's been one of the reasons Cairns has flourished early on in Powell River. Despite acclimatizing to a another scene, it's been the alternating on-ice settings that Cairns is getting used to seeing.

"There's an opportunity to maybe get more minutes," Lewis said. "[Cairns] joins a pretty strong D core but makes it stronger, so there's not a lot of emphasis of having to try to do too much, just fit in. It's just given us the ability to have six D on the ice at any time who are comfortable in almost any situation. Him coming to us just gave us a lot of depth."

That, combined with a philosophy to keep things simple, makes for a near effortless transition.

"We do have a good defensive structure in terms of an organization but we also don't burden," Lewis said. "The game is complicated enough; we don't try to complicate it more at that position."

Cairns and his new teammates will surely look to make a run in the post season this year. The Kings are second in the Island Division with 57 points and a record of 28-16-1-0. With the defensive support, they're primed to compete against perennial powerhouses like the Penticton Vees and Vernon Vipers.

The Kings carry a championship-calibre standard themselves, as well.

"He knew what he was coming to," said Lewis. "Since 2009, nobody's played more playoff games than us but I guess when it comes down to it, it's championships; that's what we always strive for."

The plan for Cairns after Powell River is to relocate again. He committed to Cornell University two years ago and will make the move to New York next season. 

"I expect it to be tough," he said. "Nothing's going to be easy. NCAA guys are bigger, stronger, school's obviously going to be there and I'll have to manage my time well. I think it's going to be a great experience for myself."

Given all the new looks on the ice, new teams and environments, it's still the same game of hockey. The progress will continue for the young defender who would like nothing more than to be an Oiler.

"Continue to get bigger, continue to get stronger, work on every skill," he said. "Skating, moving the puck, handling the puck, everything. It's just a developmental process right now and hopefully they're happy with where I am and I'm very happy with where I am. We'll continue to go from there."

In the future, it could be Oiler fans getting used to watching the blueliner from their vantage point in Rogers Place.

"Edmonton has done right by so many things and the time for him to develop is the most important thing," stated Lewis. "It's not a sprint when you're an 18-year-old big defenceman, it's a marathon. They've got a nice player and most importantly a nice kid."

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