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Tampa Bay Lightning Top 25 Under 25: #21 Maxim Cajkovic

Can the talented shooter stick with Syracuse this season?

Scott Thomas Photography

The 2021-22 season was a bit of a flummoxing one for Maxim Cajkovic. The forward was sent home from the Slovakian World Juniors selection camp after he ran teammate Samuel Krajc, causing a concussion, during practice. Still, he ended up signing an entry-level deal with the Tampa Bay Lightning. After an impressive training camp he made the Syracuse Crunch’s opening day roster and recorded a goal and an assist in the win over the Cleveland Monsters.

Unfortunately, it would be 14 games and almost three months before he recorded another point. He was in and out of the line-up and for too many of the games where he did play, he wasn’t effective. In January he was re-assigned to the Orlando Solar Bears and fared a little better, recording 12 points (8 goals, 4 assists) in 25 games.

While Cajkovic is the first player to make a return appearance from last year’s rankings, he took a bit of a dive. Once again it’s the writers who are responsible as a few of us left him off of their lists completely. A bit harsh for one of the best shooting prospects in the organization, but understandable considering his performance last season when given an opportunity with Syracuse.

This season will present a big test for the 21-year-old. With the way the roster is developing in Syracuse he has an excellent opportunity to earn a spot in the top six and on the power play. There was one area that he improved on compared to his pre-Syracuse play. He cut down on the amount of penalties he took while on the ice. In 20 games with the Crunch he only had two minor penalties, with none of them coming in his last 11 games. In Orlando he took 16 in 25 games, not bad based on his rate prior to last season.

Cajkovic has the tools to be an elite scorer at the AHL level and a pretty good one in the NHL. With his speed and shot he should project out to be a middle-sixer winger that can post up and let it rip on the power play. When he is engaged, he can win board battles and hold his own in front of the net. Those are skills the Lightning are going to need in a few seasons when some of their veterans either retire or move on to other teams. They can only get so far with bottom-six possession players, they will need folks who can put the puck in the net.

However, in order to earn the promotion to the Lightning, heck, just to earn consistent playing time for the Crunch Cajkovic needs to improve his defensive play. In some organizations you can get away with cheating a bit on defense as long as you put the puck in the net. That is not the case if you want to play for Ben Groulx or Jon Cooper. Cajkovic found that out the hard way last year as he was scratched for games and then crowded out of the line-up in Syracuse.

If he can show that dedication night-in and night-out he will find himself in a position to score a lot more. He has the skills to do it, and can be extremely dangerous in the neutral zone and transition due to his quickness. If he breaks up a play in the middle of the ice, he can wheel it back into the offensive zone and trouble the goaltender with his shot.

It’ll will be a big season for him in 2022-23. There are some Alex Volkov-vibes developing early in his career - scoring talent that just doesn’t translate to success on the ice. There is still plenty of time for him to change the narrative, after all he is just 21, but he doesn’t have unlimited time. The Lightning have shown a willingness to cut ties with prospects who aren’t gelling with the system (see - Somppi, Otto). Hopefully, last season was a bit of a wake-up call for Cajkovic and we see a more dedicated and consistent effort this season.