Maxim Cajkovic was the number-one overall selection in the CHL Import Draft. He made a great impression in the year prior to that selection, putting up numbers in the Swedish U20 ranks and internationally. His performance of 11 points in just five games at the 2018 World Under-18 Championship crowned him the tournament leader in points per game as an under-age forward.
Birthplace: Bratislava, Slovakia
Date of birth: January 3, 2001
Weight: 187 lbs.
Team: Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL)
Unfortunately, after joining the Saint John Sea Dogs for his first season on North American ice, such dominance over a full year in the QMJHL wasn’t in the cards for the goal-scorer. The rebuilding Sea Dogs finished second-to-last in the standings, winning just 13 games over the full 68-contest season.
Cajkovic finished as the team’s leading scorer with just 46 points in 60 games. Often a production of less than a point per game is seen as a red flag for forwards in their draft year (at least for those who are projected to go in the first few rounds), but in this case the winger’s scoring touch was hampered by the weakness of his team. Cajkovic had 11 more points and put up 62 more shots than his next closest teammate.
Despite shooting a lot — he finished in the top 20 of the QMJHL in shots per game — dangerous looks were hard to come by for the Sea Dogs, who spent most of the year chasing games. The high volume of pucks fired at the net only gave the forward 22 goals.
The Sea Dogs’ core was certainly very talented, but also very young; a lot of their players are only eligible for the 2020 draft. With more experience on the smaller ice and a more mature supporting cast, Cajkovic’s goal-scoring should explode in the next few years as he grows inside this skilled team. He certainly has the necessary tools to do so.
Most of his offence this season came off the rush. It was hard for Saint John to truly establish a presence inside the opponent’s offensive zone and create chances with a cycle game. They instead tried to fly out of the defensive zone to catch opposing defences off guard — to some success. The 169 goals they scored were also second-lowest in the league, but that total could have been even lower without a plan that led to high-event hockey.
Cajkovic’s speed fit very well inside this scheme. He has quick feet and they consistently move, both in the offensive and defensive zone. As soon as a puck ended up in possession of his team, he flew up ice, looking behind him with his stick down to catch a stretch pass.
Maxim Cajkovic wears #88 with the Saint John Sea Dogs
After beating the opposing defence in a race, the winger made the most of his one-on-one chances against the goalie. He didn’t need to pull off multiple moves to create holes in which to place the puck. Even if his handling skills would allow him to do so, he could easily find the small coverage gaps to fire the puck in. Cajkovic has a sniper mentality, and his release is the best part of his arsenal.
This is a beautiful camera angle of an even nicer shot. He comes up in the offensive zone, creates a lane to fire the puck by stepping wide, and without breaking his stride uses the natural weight shift of his feet landing after a crossover to press down on his stick and fire against the movement of the goalie. It is deceptive and incredibly effective. This shot barely left a chance for the goalie to adjust due to the sudden release. It is the kind of technique that, perfected, will remain dangerous even against the netminders of the NHL.
Cajkovic didn’t show the same shooting ability while established in the offensive zone, either at five-on-five or on the power play. He could work on the deceptive aspect of his releases at the right faceoff circle to have them become just as deadly as they are off the rush. This means using fakes to create holes in the defence, and getting closer to the net for his releases.
But there should also be a natural progression in his goal-scoring as the Sea Dogs’ offensive strategies evolve to set up his shots better.
Cajkovic has given positive indications that he can score from one-timers and by picking his spot while circling the opponent’s end. He can also be used for more than his shot, as skillful tips of point shots with his backhand from close to the net and the odd creative pass to set up others are definitely inside his range of abilities.
The most interesting element of Cajkovic’s overall advanced stats is his low ranking on high-danger shots per 60. He shoots a lot, but again doesn’t necessarily get to the areas of the ice that lead to the highest shooting percentages. This is as much a factor of the team as it is of Cajkovic’s individual ability, and it speaks just as much to a need in his development — finding ways to get inside the defensive box — and also to the occasional strength of his shot. Players who can score from further from the net, which the winger has shown he can do even if not consistently, can be very valuable.
He could also improve on his assets. He is speedy, but working on some details of his stride, adding strength, and focusing on keeping just one hand on his stick to rotate his body less as he flies up the ice, could have him come up a few steps ahead of defenders as he races up the ice, giving him even more clear breakaways.
Rankings (not all rankings are final)
Dobber Prospects: #48
Elite Prospects: #42
Future Considerations: #44
Hockey Prospect: #53
NHL Central Scouting: #54 (NA skaters)
Pronman/The Athletic: #29
An unfavourable environment in his draft year makes it difficult to properly evaluate and rank the prospect. He has the shooting threat, the skating, and he generally works quite hard on the ice. Despite the defensive mess that the Sea Dogs often were this season, Cajkovic showed some good two-way elements in his game that could further develop in the next few years.
He will likely still have strong believers in a few NHL teams leading to the draft despite the uncertainty and be selected somewhere in the second round. He is a bigger gamble than some of the other goal-scorers in this draft, but could pay off big with the right leap of faith.