Just like a year before, Maxim Cajkovic finished 16th in this year’s edition of our Top 25 Under 25 poll. If in the previous ranking the writers were much higher on him than the readers, placing him at the 14th place, this year the situation have turned upside down — it were the readers, who had him at 14th place, while the writers had been a little bit more skeptical.
Maxim Cajkovic is a 20-year old right-winger from Bratislava, Slovakia. He was drafted in the 3rd round of the 2019 NHL Entry Draft and was the only Slovak player selected in this draft class. In his draft year he recorded 46 (22+24) points in 60 games, which isn’t very impressive by a player with a potential NHL future, but it’s worth mentioning that he was playing for a team stuck at the bottom of the standings and Cajkovic, in fact, contributed to a third of his team’s goals. His D+1 numbers were a little bit better — despite playing in just 36 games, he almost matched the total of points from the previous season, posting 42 (18+24) points.
The COVID-19 pandemic massively affected junior hockey, but unlike the WHL and the OHL, the QMJHL decided to start the 2020-21 regular season last October. This wasn’t the best idea, as some of the teams were forced to spend several weeks in quarantine due to vast outbreaks within their organization and the season was repeatedly interrupted. Eventually the league suspended its season for a whole month in December. Cajkovic, who was traded from the Saint John Sea Dogs to the Val-d’Or Foreurs in the offseason, decided to stay in Europe at the start of the season. He was loaned to the team from his hometown — the Bratislava Capitals, which is playing in the ICEHL, a Central European hockey league, featuring teams from Austria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Italy, Slovakia and Slovenia.
Cajkovic, for whom it was the first experience at the professional level, played mostly on the second line and posted 17 (2+15) points in 27 games. The league however isn’t considered very competitive in Europe and mostly consists of local players or some North Americans, who couldn’t make it in the low-tier league in USA.
At the end of the last January it was announced that Cajkovic was leaving the team and returning to North America, signing an amateur tryout (ATO) contract with the Syracuse Crunch and joining their training camp before the start of the regular season in the AHL. He didn’t get to play for the Crunch and was shortly after released from ATO and joined Val-d’Or Foreurs of the QMJHL. He scored 14 (6+8) points in 12 games and helped his team to reach the finals, where his team unfortunately lost to the Victoriaville Tigres 2-4. During this playoff run Cajkovic posted 17 (10+7) points in 15 games. This was enough to make the top-10 in points this postseason.
Cajkovic has also a big experience of playing for the junior national team. In 2020 he recorded two assists at the World Junior Championship and was considered as one of the biggest offensive talents of Slovakian national team ahead of the 2021 World Juniors, but he was removed from the selection camp after an incident during one of scrimmages. Reportedly, Cajkovic delivered a tough hit on his teammate Samuel Krajč, which resulted in concussion, and was excluded for “serious violation of sports and human values”. Cajkovic later apologised for his actions, but didn’t participate at the World Juniors.
His attitude remains the biggest issue. Apart from that incident during the WJC selection camp, Cajkovic is often involved in minor scrums during the games and takes a lot of unnecessary penalties. Other than that he has a lot of tools to become an NHLer, maybe not a top-six player, but a solid depth forward. Most of his scouting reports praise his shot, his ability to skate and his speed.
He’s very dynamic offensively and can punish the opposite side on counter attacks as his ability to quickly accelerate his speed allows him to leave the opponents behind him. He’s a very creative player, but not a passer, preferring to take a shot anytime he has a chance. His defensive abilities however need to be improved, if he seriously thinks about the NHL.
Last spring Cajkovic signed a three-year entry level deal with the Tampa Bay Lightning. He’s expected to start the next season with the Syracuse Crunch and will have an opportunity to prove himself during the prospect camp and prospect showcase, which started yesterday. The upcoming season will be very important for him as at the end of it we will understand more what he’s capable of.
As you wait for this afternoon's matchup, check out this beauty from Maxim Cajkovic and the rest of the highlights from yesterday's game!— QMJHL (@QMJHL) May 30, 2021
VIDEO ️▶️ : https://t.co/bifuikXlQq #QPlayoffs #PresidentCup pic.twitter.com/kHG0S8MYVm
#WorldJuniors: Slick passing play with Maxim Cajkovic (TB) feeding Samuel Knazko (2020 Draft), who sets up Oliver Okuliar (2020 Draft) for the opening strike. Slovakia leads Kazakhstan 1-0 in the 2nd#gobolts #2020NHLDraft @WHLHurricanes pic.twitter.com/oHPQxKY0FS— Steve Kournianos (@TheDraftAnalyst) December 27, 2019