Sea Dogs forward Maxim Cajkovic will play in Wednesday’s nationally televised Sherwin-Williams CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game on Sportsnet. For many Canadians this will be their first peek at the Slovakian sniper known for his quick release and deadly accuracy with the puck. For Sea Dogs fans who have been following the 17-year-old’s transformation since arriving in Canada back in August of 2018, this will be their chance to see how the Sea Dog’s leading scorer stacks up with the CHL’s top talent ahead of the 2019 NHL Entry Draft.
A player’s draft year is a stressful one as it combines the regular day-to-day pressures of junior hockey with the microscopic scrutiny of NHL scouts. Multiply that with uprooting his entire life to move to Canada, and Maxim has been through a lot in his first year in the QMJHL.
“It’s hard for me at times because it’s been a lot of changes at once – new country, new team, new home, new everything. I think I’m dealing with it well. It can always be better, but it can also always be worse, I’m really happy with how I’m handling everything right now.”
Players will always find a way to adapt on the ice, but a new country can take some time getting used to.
“People are really nice here. They don’t even lock their doors here, it was weird at first, they just leave their garage doors open overnight and nothing happens (laughs). Everyone is so friendly though, people just want to help each other here. Canadians are a little bit different, it’s a little more relaxed here and people are able to focus more on the present, no one seems to dwell on the past or future, I’ve really been enjoying it.”
Playing in the Sherwin-Williams CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game puts Cajkovic in an esteemed group. Past players include Connor McDavid, Nathan MacKinnon and Steven Stamkos. This year’s contest takes place in Red Deer, AB. Selected players are split into either Team Cherry or Team Orr. They will be coached by an assembly of hockey royalty that includes Brent Sutter, Dave Hunter, Kelly Hrudey, and Cajkovic’s head coach for the evening, Ron MacLean.
“It means a lot to me, it’s a big honor. I get to meet some new players from outside of our league who are projected as top guys and get to compare myself to them. I’m really thankful that I was picked and that I get the opportunity to showcase what kind of player I am.”
With so many eyes on a single game it can be hard not to succumb to the pressure, but Maxim is treating the showcase for what it is, one game in what will hopefully be a long career.
“It’s one game, not a 68 game season like here in the QMJHL so you can really put all of your focus and energy into that one game—but it’s still only one game. I’m just going to play my best and show that I belong and that I deserve to be here. I’m going to focus on representing Saint John and also Slovakia in the best way I can.”
Cajkovic has been representing Saint John very well as of late. The winger has 10 points in his last seven games and was a key part of the team’s recent success of stringing together wins over the rival Acadie-Bathurst Titan and Shawinigan Cataractes.
“It hasn’t just been my success, it’s been a whole team effort. We’ve found a new chemistry and that’s been the key to me playing better. I’ve just been sticking to what’s got me this far in my career. I know that it works so I knew I had to keep going and hope that eventually things would break, and I think things have. Hopefully we can continue on this path as a team and my personal success with continue along with it.”
Saint John is battling back-and-forth with Shawinigan for the final playoff spot and are currently a single point back. With the addition of a few key players during the Christmas trade period and a renewed energy post Christmas break, Maxim feels there has been a real positive change for the Port City club.
“Our goal from the beginning has always been the playoffs and after that first bad stretch we had to sit down, re-group and start playing our game and listen to the coaching staff and follow the game plan—start playing a team game and not a kid’s game just for ourselves. Since that change we’ve been playing a lot better and everyone’s been stepping up and playing for the team. We want to go to the playoffs more than anything. We’re still far from the end so we still need to step up and continue trying to achieve our goals that we established in the beginning of the season.”
The Sherwin-Williams CHL/NHL Top Prospects game will air Wednesday, January 23rd on Sportsnet at 11:00PM AST.