Pathway to success
Eight years ago, a 17-year-old Dimitri Khristich was first making waves in Kiev, catching the eyes of the Soviet National Teams, as well as National Hockey League scouts. In addition to scoring 17 goals in his first season, the young Ukrainian was also getting international experience as a member of the Soviet National Juniors team.
Playing alongside future NHL All-Stars Alexander Mogilny and Sergei Fedorov, Khristich went on to win a silver medal at the 1988 World Junior Championships. The following year, he won a gold medal. In 1990, Khristich won another gold medal, this time at the Goodwill Games as a member of the Soviet National team. He even scored the game-winning goal against the U.S.
Seeing his potential, the Capitals selected Khristich in the sixth round of the 1988 NHL Entry Draft. Released from obligations by Sokol-Kiev in 1990, he became a member of the Capitals and is now one of 54 former Soviet players on NHL rosters.
Khristich made his NHL debut against the Chicago Blackhawks at Chicago Stadium on December 12,1990. Two weeks later, he scored his first NHL goal against the New York Rangers and finished his rookie season with 14 goals in 40 games.
His most productive season came the following year. Teaming often with veteran Michal Pivonka and second-year winger Peter Bondra, Khristich recorded a 37-goal, 36-assist season.
In addition, the Eastern European trio of Khristich, Pivonka and Bondra combined for 209 points in the 1991-92 season. For Pivonka, the 80 points (23 goals, 57 assists) were a career high, with many of those assists going to Khristich.
Despite missing the first 20 games of the 1992-93 season with a broken foot suffered in the Capitals' final preseason game, Khristich had a second straight outstanding season. He reached the 30-goal mark for the second time and finished with 67 points in only 64 games.
Khristich's 31 goals served as a momentum builder that he carried into the beginning of the 1993-94 campaign. He started that season fast, scoring 20 goals in the first 42 games as the Capitals reached the midway point at 19-19-4. He had a pair of game-winning goals and a game-tying goal as the Capitals stayed in contention for the playoffs.
Yet somehow, Khristich lost confidence. His scoring slumped as the Capitals suffered a mid-season dive. With Washington losing five of six games and falling out of playoff contention, general manager David Pone replaced coach Terry Murray with Jim Schoenfeld.
The team responded by going 8-2-2 over the next 12 games and back into the playoff chase. Still, Khristich, who was learning anew coaching system and skating with different line combinations, had problems scoring.
Despite scoring the only two goals in Schoenfeld's Washington coaching debut against Buffalo, Khristich struggled through the remainder of the season. He only scored nine goals in the final 41 games, finishing the season with 29 goals and 58 points.
"Part of the problem was that I took a lot of risks under Coach Murray," said Khristich. ''1 felt I could use my abilities to take risks and create scoring chances. Sometimes those risks paid off, sometimes they didn't."
Schoenfeld's coaching style differed from Murray's, so Khristich had to adjust. He recovered some of that confidence in the playoffs, scoring a pair of goals in the Capitals' 4-2 series win over Pittsburgh. It was a start, but Khristich knew he had much work to do when he returned to training camp.