All Capitals fans are aware of the goal-scoring exploits of Alexander Ovechkin who is the most recent and current player to don No. 8 on his sweater for the team. A generation ago, the Caps had another goal-scoring winger who also came from the former Soviet Union who also wore No. 8. In this latest Capitals Alumni Profile, Diane Doyle takes a look back on the Capitals career of Dmitri Khristich.
Early Life and Career
Dmitry Anatolievich Khristich was born in Kiev, U.S.S.R (now Ukraine) on July 23, 1969. He played for the Kiev Sokol Club in his home city from the 1985-86 season through the first part of the 1990-91 season, six seasons in all. He began his playing career with Kiev Sokol when he was only 16-years old. He was drafted in the sixth-round of the 1988 NHL Entry Draft , with the 120th overall pick. At the time the Caps drafted him, he was considered a raw talent. However, he progressed with Kiev Sokol and took on greater responsibility as time passed. He represented the Soviet Union in the World Junior Championships in 1989 and scored six goals and added two assists. He also represented the Soviet Union in the World Championships in 1990 and had two goals and three assists in seven games as the Soviet team earned a gold medal.
During Khristich’s last year with Kiev Sokol, 1990-91, a player by the name of Todd Hartje played with the club. He was born in Minnesota, had been drafted by the Minnesota North Stars, and had a degree from Harvard University prior to joining Kiev Sokol. Hartje thought it would be interesting to play one season in the Soviet Union. His plan was to write a book about the experience. In any case, the coach for Kiev Sokol noticed that Khristich’s English, while still marginal, was better than that of his teammates and placed his locker close to Hartje’s. While they initially had difficulty communicating, eventually, they became good friends. The players had to live in an apartment complex that both Hartje and Khristich considered as less than wonderful. But to pass the time, Khristich and his friend and teammate, Alexander Godynyuk, would enter Hartje’s room and ask him about the United States. The experience helped the players to learn each other’s languages.
Originally, Khristich did not wish to defect to the United States. But by 1990, Soviet teams needed cash and, thus, released Khristich to the Capitals and he joined the team on December 11, 1990.
“He was very loyal to the club. So he didn’t want to just take off and leave on a bad note. He wanted to make sure the team was well-provided for in his release fee. He’s a deep thinker. He takes a lot of things in and tends to look at things from a lot of different ways.
“If something isn’t going right, it will gnaw at him a bit. Right before he left, he was worried things might fall through…But that still didn’t change his relationship with the team. He was still the same fun guy.
“He tried to keep everybody happy. Though he was pretty young, he had played on the national team and been at Sokol for a number of years already and he knew what helped make the season more bearable. He was having fun himself but also let everybody have a little escape from the season.”
Career With the Washington Capitals
When Khristich joined the Washington Capitals on December 11, 1990, he made history as the youngest player the Soviet Union had ever allowed to leave the country to play hockey. Khristich was not the first Soviet to play for the Capitals. At the beginning of the same season, Mikhail Tatarinov had joined the team and was the first young Soviet player to play in North America without defecting. Khristich was much more “Americanized” than Tatarinov, given that he played on junior and senior National teams that had toured the world. The Caps perceived that Tatarinov did not make enough of an effort to learn English or mix with the other players and he was traded in June 1991.
As a rookie in just 40 games played, Khristich had 13 goals and 14 assists for 27 points. For the playoffs that season, he had one goal and three assists in 11 games.
The next year, 1991-92, Khristich got off to a great start and had 13 goals by November 20. The Caps, as a team, got off to great start, winning 15 of their first 20 games and 17 of their first 22. Khristich ended up with 36 goals and 37 assists for the 1991-92 season. The Caps ended up finishing second in the Patrick Division with a record of 45-27-8 and also had the second-best overall record in the NHL. They met the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Patrick Division Semi-Finals and lost a seven-game series. Khristich had three goals and two assists and had scored all five of his points during the first four games against Pittsburgh but had no points in the last three games.
In 1992-93, he scored 31 goals and added 35 assists for 66 points in only 64 games played. Due to a broken foot, he did not play in his first game until November 22. Once again, the Caps finished second in the Patrick Division, this time compiling a record of 43-34-7. In comparing team records, the NHL had added four more games to the regular season schedule, so the teams played 84 games rather than 80 games, as they had played during the previous season. The Caps met the New York Islanders in the Patrick Division Semi-Finals and lost the series in six games. Khristich scored two goals and had five assists, including two goals in the first two games of the series.
During the 1993-94 season, Khristich recorded 29 goals and 29 assists for 58 points. The Caps finished in third place in the Patrick Division with a 39-35-10 record and 88 points. That year, they met the Penguins in the Patrick Division semi-finals and, despite not having home ice advantage against them, beat them in six games. Khristich scored the first goal in both Game 1 and Game 4 and contributed assists in Game 4 and in Game 6, the series’ clincher. He was only able to record one assist in the Division Finals against the New York Rangers who beat the Caps in five games.
Due to a lockout, the 1994-95 season was shorter than normal, with only 48 games played. In that season, Khristich scored 12 goals and had 14 assists for 26 points. The Caps had a record of 22-18-8 and finished second to the Philadelphia Flyers. This time they met the Pittsburgh Penguins, who finished second in the Northeast Division. Pittsburgh had home ice advantage in this series and beat the Caps in five games. Khristich scored one goal and had four assists in the series, recording one goal and two assists in Game 4.
The 1994-95 season proved to be Khristich’s last season in his first stint with the Caps. On July 8, 1995, he was traded along with goaltender Byron Dafoe to the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for their first-round pick in 1996 and a fourth-round pick that they had previously acquired from the Dallas Stars. The first-round pick ended up becoming the fourth overall pick, which the Caps used to select Alexander Volchov, who proved to be a bust.
Further Reading on Caps Career
Washington Post Article on Khristich — 11/20/1991
WaPo Article on Caps Trading Khristich to LA Kings
NHL Career After His First Stint with the Caps
Khristich ended up playing two years with the Kings. He scored 27 goals and had 37 assists in 1995-96, and finished with 19 goals and 37 assists in 1996-97. He was named the Kings’ Most Valuable Player for each of those two seasons. His tenure with the Kings is best remembered for an incident with teammate Barry Potomski in February 1997. Potomski swung his stick and hit Khristich in the eye, resulting in a partially detached right retina that required laser surgery. They never saw each other again after the incident. Khristich missed seven games and Potomski was sent to the minors. Potomski passed away in 2011. As a result of the injury. Khristich’s eye is weaker than his other.
The Kings traded Khristich, again with Dafoe, to the Boston Bruins in exchange for Jozef Stümpel, Sandy Moger, and the Bruins’ fourth-round draft pick in 1998. He played two seasons with Boston, scoring 29 goals in both. In 1997-98, he also added 38 assists while in 1998-99, he added 42 assists. After the 1998-99 season, he was embroiled in a salary dispute with Bruins’ General Manager, Harry Sinden. He took the Bruins to arbitration and was awarded a $2.8 million salary. Sinden felt he was not worth the money so walked away and Khristich became a free agent. This was the first time that an NHL team had walked away from an arbitration award.
He then signed a contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs for the 1999-2000 season. His production tailed off that season, as he recorded only 12 goals and 18 assists.
Second Stint With the Capitals
The Leafs traded him back to the Capitals during the 2000-01 season. He had recorded three goals and six assists with the Leafs prior to the trade and finished with 10 goals and 19 assists in his return to the Caps. He played one more season with the Caps, 2001-02, in which he had nine goals and 12 assists in what proved to be his last season in the NHL. During both stints with the Caps, Khristich played in a total of 419 games, scoring 140 goals and adding 160 assists for 300 points.
Upon retiring from the NHL, Khristich had played in 811, scoring 259 goals and adding 337 assists for 596 points overall. He currently ranks 37th on the Capitals’ All-Time Games Played List, 17th in Goals, 31st in Assists, and 24th in Points. He played in the NHL All-Star Game twice, once in 1997 and the other in 1999.
After leaving the NHL, Khristich played two seasons with Metallurg Magnitogorsk in the Russian Super League (now KHL). When he retired as an active player, he served as video coach for two different KHL teams. After that, he worked with children’s teams in his native Kiev.
He was appointed as Head Coach of the Edinburgh Capitals in Scotland on June 9, 2017. He even recruited former Capital Andrei Nikolishin and Darius Kasparaitis to assist with player recruitment. However, the Edinburgh Caps got off to a bad start that season, winning just three of their first 24 games. In addition, the team was going through a corporate restructure after the previous owner’s company had been liquidated, resulting in Khristich being relieved from his duties as Head Coach.
By Diane Doyle
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