Source: sjseadogs.com

2019 NHL Draft Prospect Profile: Maxim Cajkovic

Slovakian born winger Maxim Cajkovic was looking like a top-15 selection heading into the 2018-19 season. He has slipped considerably since then, in large part to disappointing production. However, he still led an anemic Saint John Sea Dogs squad in scoring this year, and has some high end tools. What does that mean for his overall outlook? Let’s find out.

Bio

  • Age/Birthdate: 18 / January 3, 2001
  • Birthplace: Bratislava, Slovakia
  • Frame: 5-foot-11 / 187 lbs
  • Position: Right Wing/Left Wing
  • Handedness: Right
  • Draft Year Team: Saint John Sea Dogs
  • Accolades:

2018-19 Stat Rundown

GP G A P INV% 5v5 Pr INV% 5v5 ePr60 SEAL Sh/GP Sh% 5v5 eTOI GF% GF%rel GD60 rel XLS% Top XLS% XPR
60 22 24 46 31% 28% 1.77 0.83 3.60 10% 16.4 40.3% 15.9% 2.30 7% 3% 36.5

Scouting Report

Maxim Cajkovic is what you might call a “toolsy player”. By that, I mean that he has the type of physical talents that make him a standout player upon the first impression. He possesses certain skills that, five or ten years ago, would make him a top-tier prospect: Breakaway speed, explosive acceleration, a rocket of a shot. While each of these skills is still certainly very valuable, Cajkovic is somewhat lacking in an area that has become essential to NHL scouts: His ability to process the game. Before we get to that, let’s have a look at the areas when Cajkovic excels.

First and foremost, he’s incredibly fast. Cajkovic has breakaway speed and the hands to handle the puck at that pace. Look at him tear through the defenders here and put the moves on the goaltender.

Despite his diminutive stature, Cajkovic produces a significant amount of power through his lower body. Deep knee bends, an upright posture and high hand grip combine to allow him to tear down the wing with speed and impressive handling. He changes tempo well, and adds jukes and micro-maneuvers that lead to deceptiveness and unpredictability that put defenders on edge. Cajkovic demonstrates all of this in the clip below.

Cajkovic’s other marquee skill is his shot, which he gets away quickly and with undeniable power. Cajkovic leans on his stick to generate a high amount of torque on his wrist shots, unleashing them without much of a draw-back, and both from a standstill and while moving. He also possesses a high-velocity one-timer that he looks to get off frequently from the left circle.

At about three and a half shots per game, Cajkovic’s shot generation is solid, but his shot selection in games isn’t always ideal. With quality of linemates being a persistent problem (which we’ll explore in depth below), he may be trying to force shots whenever possible. Whatever the reason, there are a few too many attempts being taken from low-percentage angles with too many bodies between him and the target.

Cajkovic is also a strong passer, owning above-average vision in the offensive zone and the necessary puck skills to make the plays as he sees them develop. This play below demonstrates a particularly nice setup; it should be noted that such a play is largely possible because Cajkovic is attacking the net and the goaltender is forced to respect his shot, opening up a backdoor option.

Cajkovic likely would have been able to showcase more of his playmaking abilities if he’d had better teammates to work with; alas, he was saddled with players that often couldn’t make the most of clean looks set up by Cajkovic.

Unfortunately, these individual assets struggle to shine to some extent because of questionable reads and decision making. Cajkovic has a number of bad habits, and one has to wonder at the likelihood of an organization being able to correct all of them.

One of the most noticeable is his penchant for forcing plays that aren’t there in transition, typically resulting in turnovers. This is yet another area where a dearth of capable linemates may be making things appear worse than they actually are, but there’s no denying that Cajkovic does sometimes invite trouble by overlooking safer plays and putting himself into spots where giveaways become the most likely outcome.

One thing we frequently look for in terms of processing is the ability to identify and attack open space; players should be able to create lanes for their teammates and make themselves available as passing options. Cajkovic’s ability to do this is inconsistent, and what’s worse is that he has a habit of working himself out of open space when he was already available for a pass, which is the exact opposite of what you’d want to see.

Cajkovic is an aggressive player with a decent amount of physicality given his size. He’s a spitfire and is always looking to put the body on opponents. His relentlessness encouraged his coaches to give him regular penalty kill, where his aggressive tendencies created havoc for power plays trying to execute simple breakout plays.

He can occasionally take things too far, such as the blatant boarding penalty below. He is also frequently complaining to the refs about calls of every nature; over the course of the 2018-19 season, Cajkovic was tagged with two embellishment penalties and four unsportsmanlike conduct penalties. Isolated events aren’t necessarily issues on their own, but in combination with each other, there do seem to be some risk factors for a lack of discipline.

When I watch Cajkovich, I see a player with a relatively safe floor. He ticks a lot of boxes in terms of flashy tools, and he plays with a level of speed and aggression that make it unlikely that he’ll be left behind at higher levels. I do think that his processing and decision-making will prohibit him from being a significant point producer at the professional level, but I do see the makings of a modern day bottom-six forward here.

Analysis

On its face, Cajkovic’s production (46 points in 60 games) is far from impressive for a first-time draft eligible player in the QMJHL. His production results in a 7% likelihood of becoming an NHL regular and just below a 3% likelihood of becoming an impact player. Normally, those are the types of odds that you’d want to stay away from entirely, even though names like Brad Marchand and Mike Hoffman pop up as comparable junior players. The sea of red dots representing failed players is unnerving.

(Read more about pGPS here.)

There may be more to the story, though, and as I keep saying, pGPS should be viewed as betting odds, and we have to assess the likelihood (however remote) of the player beating those odds.

Cajkovic represents the first of what will become a bit of a recurring theme in this draft class: He was the best player on a very poor team (Peyton Krebs is the poster boy for this theme). Cajkovic’s 46 points led the Saint John Sea Dogs this season, and by a considerable margin at that (the next closest was a paltry 34 points). Three-quarters of a point per game isn’t great, but how do you reconcile that production when a player had so little help in that department?

There are a couple of ways that we can go about this from a quantitative standpoint. Obviously not as many as would be available in the NHL or even some of the European pro leagues, but our hands aren’t completely tied here.

The most straightforward way is to look at a player’s proportionate contribution to team offence. The Sea Dogs scored the second-fewest goals in the QMJHL this season (169). That is exactly half of what the highest-scoring team, Drummondville, managed over the course of the same amount of games, which is absolutely absurd.

In the games that Cajkovic played for Saint John, his team scored 147 goals, meaning that his 46 points account for 31% of the goals scored by Saint John (there are a number of different ways to describe this percentage, but I have become partial to Scouching’s Involvement Percentage, or INV%).

Taking it a step further, Cajovic had a goal or primary assist on 28% of Saint John’s 5-on-5 goals, which is in the 98th percentile among draft-eligible players. Furthermore, this primary contribution to team offence seemed to only be increasing as the season wore on.

Put into perspective, Cajkovic’s 31% involvement percentage is on par with the likes of Kirby Dach, Dylan Cozens and Jack Hughes (32%, 31% and 30% respectively), and his 28% primary five-on-five involvment percentage is better than almost every CHL and USHL prospect outside of Bobby Brink, Arthur Kaliyev and Josh Nodler (33%, 30% and 30%, respectively).

Another method to assess comparative offensive support is to take a crack at measuring quality of teammates. Again, there aren’t many common ways of going about this in junior leagues. Using a sample of CHL and USHL players, I determined an average estimated points per hour for the teammates of each player with and without that player, weighted according to how often the player played with each teammate. Here are a few takeaways:

  • Maxim Cajkovic was in the 49th percentile when it came to teammate production rate with him;
  • Cajkovic was in the 9th percentile in terms of teammate production rate without him;
  • Cajkovic was in the 92nd percentile in terms of teammate improvement from without him to with him.

This information indicates, for one, that Cajkovic had some of the least productive linemates in all of Canadian and American junior hockey, and for another, Cajkovic did a pretty admirable job of drawing offence out of those players when he shared the ice with them. The eP60 WOWY below reiterates this point, with nearly every linemate producing at significantly higher rates with Cajkovic compared to without him.

With results like this, it isn’t difficult to see why Cajkovic struggled to meet the expectations that led to him being drafted first overall in the 2019 CHL Import Draft.

Coming back to the original question of whether Cajkovic can beat the poor odds assigned to him by pGPS, I’d suggest that at the very least his chances are better than those numbers give him credit for. Cajkovic was coming off a pretty solid draft-minus-one season in the SuperElit junior league in Sweden and was forced to adjust to the North American game style and culture under pretty difficult circumstances on a very bad team.

Thought to be a surefire first-rounder a year ago, it now appears that Cajkovic could be available in the second or even third round. I’d be very interested to see how he would perform with more talented players, given that his proportionate offence stacks up nicely against some of the best players in the draft.

I do still think that his processing and style of play makes him less likely to be an impact offensive player and more likely to be an energy player who can use his aggression to help turnover pucks and kill penalties, with enough raw skill to contribute offensively from the middle portion or lower half of the lineup. That said, I can’t discount the possibility that Cajkovic becomes one of the draft’s better sleeper picks.

Additional Charts and Data

Rolling Season Data

Team Relative

Cohort Based

Adjusted Scoring

Sources

Raw data for the charts used in this article came from eliteprospects.com and theqmjhl.ca.

Check out Maxim Cajkovic’s Prospect Shifts page here (paywall).