Maxim Cajkovic was a prospect I liked a lot from the moment the Tampa Bay Lightning drafted him. Hailing from Slovakia, Cajkovic was drafted 89th overall in the third round of the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. He the third pick by the Lightning in that draft after Nolan Foote went in the first round and Hugo Alnefelt was selected earlier in the third round.
This is a player that had quite a bit of disparity between the writers and the readers. I imagine this mostly has to do with name recognition. He’s not a sexy prospect, and wasn’t in the most recent draft. Add in a European name that most fans probably don’t know how to pronounce, and it’s easy to see why he’d be overlooked.
But the writers didn’t overlook Cajkovic and his potential for an NHL future. He ranged from 14th to 21st on the Writer ballots with three 14th place votes, a 15th place vote, and three 16th place votes. I actually had Cajkovic ranked the lowest of the writers at 21, but my methodology has always tended to vary a bit from the rest of the group as I try to balance current and future projections and how likely the player is to reach those projections.
Cajkovic is a skilled player and has good size for a forward at 6’0” and 190 pounds. In his draft year of 2018-19, he scored 22 goals and recorded 46 points in 60 games. His follow up season was a bit of a let down as he dealt with some injuries and the shortened season. For both those reasons, he only made it into 36 games, but improved his overall offensive performance with 18 goals and 24 assists for 42 points. He also made Team Slovakia for the U20 World Junior Championship and recorded two assists in five games.
For me, I can see that the tools are there for Cajkovic to have an NHL future. The injuries and also some reports of poor attitude and coachability are a bit of a concern that could hamper his development as he moves into the professional ranks in 2021-22 where more will be demanded of him by the coaching staff.
Cajkovic was also hampered a bit the past two seasons by being on a poor Saint John team. In 2018-19, he led the team in goals, assists, and points, which isn’t very impressive when he had a 22-24-46 total. The team was so bad, that all but one player that played at least 15 games had a double digit negative plus-minus. Plus-minus is a flawed stat, but it still shows how much that team was being scored against. It’s not a great thing to see a defenseman that played 26 games was a minus-37. The team was also very young with a lot of 16 and 17 year olds on it. The team scored 169 goals and had 364 scored against them. The only thing keeping them from being last in the QMJHL was that Acadie-Bathurst Titan was even more miserable.
The 2019-20 edition of the Saint John Sea Dogs was a bit better, but was still outscored 226-240 in 64 games and finished the 2019-20 season 6th in the East Division and tied for 10th overall in the 18 team league. They were on pace to make it into the playoffs if the season had continued, but would not have been expected to go very deep. Despite all of his missed time, Cajkovic finished 6th on the team in points with the team being a little older and a little more talented.
In June, Cajkovic was traded to the Val-d’Or Foreurs. Val-d’Or has not been a very good team over the past three seasons. However, Val-d’Or also acquired Jakob Pelletier over the summer who was a 1st round pick by the Calgary Flames in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. Pelletier has been a high end offensive performer since joining the QMJHL and Cajkovic could have potentially joined him on the first line.
Unfortunately due to everything going on in the world, Cajkovic was unable to join Val-d’Or when the QMJHL initially started it’s season as the beginning of October. On September 29th, he was loaned to the Bratislava Capitals of the ICEHL. The press release from Bratislava also made it sound like the Lightning had a hand in finding him this landing spot. The QMJHL started back up at the end of October, but Cajkovic has not joined the team and it’s unclear if or when he will.
In the meantime, Cajkovic has been getting valuable experience playing in a professional league and has recorded two goals and eight points over nine games for the Capitals. The ICEHL is not a highly prestigious league in Europe though. Most of the league’s teams are based in Austria, but also feature Bratislava of Slovakia, Fehervar of Hungary, and Bolzano of Italy in the league. Much of the league is made up of professionals from Europe as well as many players that were low-level AHL players and high end ECHL players.
A quick scroll through the players currently in the league reveal some familiar names. For example, Mitch Hults who played for the Syracuse Crunch and Orlando Solar Bears in 2018-19 and Ty Loney who played for the Crunch and Adirondack Thunder in 2017-18. Former Lightning draft pick Brendan O’Donnell played in the league in 2018-19. Former Crunch captain Mike Angelidis played in the league in 2017-18 along with former Crunch forward Mike Halmo.
That should give you a bit of an idea of the talent level of this league. It’s good to see Cajkovic scoring at close to a point per game pace, but I would love to see him score at an even higher clip in the league. If he can stretch past that point per game scoring and get closer to 1.25 points per game, I’d be really excited to see that. It would suggest that his offensive skills have continued to come along to the point where he can be an impact player in the AHL.
Cajkovic has a great shot, and is more shooter than he is passer. His NHL future isn’t clear, but there’s enough there to envision him playing a depth scoring role if he continues to develop offensively, shore up his defensive game, and if he has solved his attitude issues. We know that Jon Cooper doesn’t put up with depth players that aren’t at least okay defensively, so that is something I will be looking for him to show in the AHL in 2021-22. I don’t think he’s shown enough of that in Juniors, or even in the ICEHL, though and needs to make some big steps in the right direction.
The Lightning have not signed Cajkovic to an entry level contract and will have the rest of this season to evaluate and make a decision on him. At this point, I don’t see it as a problem giving him an ELC. At a minimum, he should be a middle six forward at the AHL and still has that potential of developing into an NHLer if he can pull together all aspects of his game into a more complete package.