Petr Cajka, the Erie Otters first-round pick in the CHL Import Draft in 2018, has decided to not return to the team in 2019-20. Cajka confirmed his intentions to the Hockey Writers directly.
In a statement from Cajka, he cited one major reason for the decision to not return. Here is the full statement from him.
“I truly love everyone on the team and enjoyed every single moment in Erie. But after the draft, I decided to choose a different way because unfortunately there was no interest from NHL teams. So my final decision is that I won’t be joining Erie next year. But it for sure was the best year of my life and I’m really thankful for what the entire organization has done for me. Thank you.”-Petr Cajka
Cajka did go undrafted in the 2019 NHL Draft to the surprise of some. Even more surprising was the fact that he didn’t get an invite to any NHL Development Camp after the draft.
Cajka was ranked on NHL Central Scouting’s list all season. He was 103rd at midterm but did fall to 152nd on the final rankings. It was still believed someone would take a late flyer on him.
After a slow start, Cajka put together a nice season for himself, scoring 20 goals and spending much of the season on the Otters’ top-six at center. But the Otters did miss the playoffs mostly due to being one of the youngest teams in the OHL.
So now the Otters will have to move forward without Cajka. In one sense, the Otters had a logjam at forward and the belief was a 2000 forward would eventually get moved. While that could still happen, Cajka’s decision to not return does create some breathing room for the team.
Austen Swankler recently committed to the Otters. We can expect him to jump right into the top-six. With Cajka not returning, that commitment takes on more importance.
In another sense, the Otters will likely not have an import player on their roster when the season begins. Their 2019 import pick Marat Khusnutdinov took to Instagram and indicated that he is staying in Russia for now. Per team sources, the door is not closed on that front. They will continue to work to see if he will eventually come over. It’s still disheartening to a degree to see players leaving or not willing to come over right away.
In terms of where Cajka will play next season, he did not indicate that, but it is expected he’ll play in his home nation the Czech Republic. He played for Zug U-20 in 2017-18.
All told, GM Dave Brown and the team will continue to move forward in the process in returning to prominence. Losing Cajka is a setback, but something they can overcome.
I am a fully credentialed writer who covers the Columbus Blue Jackets, Cleveland Monsters and Erie Otters as well as the Ontario Hockey League and NHL Draft. The 2022-23 season will mark nine seasons with the Hockey Writers. I am also the site’s Credentials Manager. Please take note of the updated Twitter handle: @mark_scheig.