While with Washington, Khristich quickly showed skills worthy of NHL competition.
When Kings left wings Dimitri Khristich found himself coming to the United States to make this his new home, he was quick to discover what life here is like. But what has captured his attention the most is a new sport. Frozen ice has been traded for green fairways and his linemates now form a foursome. The game of golf has become a love for this softspoken Ukrainian.
"I had never even heard of the game of golf before I came to the United States," explained Khristich, who laughed when asked his handicap. "All of my teammates would play between games and during the off-season. They kept telling me how much fun it is. After a few years I decided to give it a try and now I really like it. "
While the plains of Ukraine contain no golf courses, it was the long frozen winters that gave Khristich the opportunity to become a talented hockey player. When Khristich was growing up, there were no Soviet players to be found in the NHL. Instead offollowing the glamour of the NHL, the game of hockey was played for competition within the country and national pride of possibly joining one of the elite Soviet teams. Khristich was one of the gifted players who possessed the necessary skills and talent, quickly moving through the ranks of the Soviet hockey system. He found himself playing junior hockey with Alexander Mogilny of Vancouver and Detroit's Sergei Fedorov, joining this talented combination as they led the Soviet junior team to a silver medal in 1988 and a gold medal in 1989.
"Not many players who grow up in the United States or Canada get to experience playing for their country," said Khristich. "They concentrate more on making it into the NHL. For many European players, the only way they can make it to the NHL is by playing for their country in the Olympics or in other international tournaments. For me, it was a great experience. "
It was exactly this avenue that showcased Khristich, catching the eyes of the Washington Capitals, who drafted Khristich 102nd overall in the 1988 NHL draft. For most young players, the opportunity to be drafted and their first contact with a scout is one experience they will never forget. For Khristich, it was a concept that he was still trying to understand.
"I still didn't know anything about the draft," he described honestly. "We were in Alaska for the World Junior Championships when the chief scout for Washington, Jack Button, asked if I would like to come play hockey for them. 'Sure,' I replied. So they told me not to worry about it and they would make things happen to get me over. Even though I was a teenager, that was the first time that I ever thought about the draft.
"Growing up, kids in Ukraine never thought about it. It wasn't until I became a teenager that everyone started talking about it. I thought, 'if they are wanting to do it then so will 1.'"
While it might be second nature for someone from Manitoba or Alberta to leave their home after being drafted, it was entirely another story for players in the former Soviet Union.
A little more than two seasons with Sokol-Kiev in the Soviet Elite League found Khristich with 83 points in 117 games. In addition, he scored the tournament-winning goal in a shootout against the United States at the 1990 Goodwill Games, capturing the gold medal. This made it increasingly difficult for the Soviets to depart with one of their future players. However, after months and months of negotiations, Khristich joined the Capitals on Dec. 19, 1990, becoming the youngest hockey player ever allowed to leave the Soviet Union.
Less than two weeks later after joining the Capitals, on Dec. 28, Khristich scored his first NHL goal (in Madison Square Garden) and finished the season with 27 points in 40 games.
In his first full season, 1991-92, he had 73 points in 80 games while showing his strength as a two-way player. He led the Capitals in powerplay goals (14) and plus/minus (plus-24), while finishing tied for the team lead with game-winners (seven). This success also carried into the playoffs where he scored three goals (all power play), including the game-winner against Pittsburgh in Game 4.
A solid first full season and mar-