Caps plan shuttle diplomacy for Soviet signee


LANDOVER -- Hopefully Dimitri Khristich slept soundly last night.

The latest Soviet import by the Washington Capitals, fresh from a 17-hour trip, faces a hectic schedule the rest of the week in preparation for his NHL debut.

Between periods of last night's 4-1 win over Philadelphia, the Caps announced the signing of Khristich -- and left little doubt he's expected to have an immediate impact.

"He'll practice with us the next two days, then report to Baltimore for three games with the Skipjacks this weekend," said general manager Dave Poile. "Then he'll join us in New York Monday night."

Khristich is the second Soviet player to be signed by the Caps in the last two months -- and the fourth player from Eastern Europe to join the organization this year.

Defenseman Mikhail Tatarinov, who triggered last night's first goal, moved into the starting lineup after joining the club in October. Winger Peter Bondra was the NHL Rookie of the Month for November and has scored 23 points in 30 games. In addition, Jiri Vykoukal, a 1989 draft choice, is currently skating with the Skipjacks.

But, according to Poile, Washington's NHL franchise is not about to become the Red Caps. "This is it," Poile said after announcing the signing of Kristich. "We're not going to make any more acquisitions."

Khristich is the youngest player ever to be allowed to leave the Soviet Union and, at 21, will become the second youngest ever to play in the NHL. Sergei Federov, a former junior world championship teammate of Khristich, defected to join the Detroit Red Wings, and already has become an impact player, with 30 points in his first 29 games.

"Tatarinov played almost immediately because he's 24 years old," said Poile. "There's no hurry with Khristich since he's only 21."

However, the fact that the Caps have scheduled the center-winger for a crash course with the Skipjacks this weekend, followed by an instant promotion, is an indication of the expectations for Khristich. "He's an all-around player who plays all three [front line] positions, so it could be quick," admitted Poile.

Asked why he was allowed to leave the Soviet Union at such a tender age, Khristich replied through an interpreter: "I'm from the Ukraine, so it's a little easier."

Khristich, like Tatarinov, was a draft choice of the Capitals. The price tag to acquire each player (paid to the Soviet Hockey Federation) is believed to be $500,000.

"There have been two Soviets whom we drafted that were a priority to bring over to the U.S.," said Jack Button, the Capitals' director of player personnel. "We're delighted that we have been able to obtain both over a short period of time."

Khristich is considered to be in the same class with Federov, one of the most exciting young players in the Soviet Union. He was a member of the 1990 gold medal Soviet National Team, and the gold medal 1989 and silver medal 1988 World Junior teams. During the 1990 Goodwill Games in Seattle last September he scored the game-winning goal in a shootout against the United States to win the tournament.

"I don't know a lot about him," said Caps coach Terry Murray, "but I'm excited to have him. He's got great size [6 feet 2, 187 pounds] and you have to be a real good player to be on the Soviet National Team. You don't find these kind of players by accident."


As NHL games go, the Capitals' win last night bordered on the boring as the teams combined for a total of only 29 shots on goal -- a Capital Centre record. "It's amazing that a game between the Capitals and Flyers should end so quickly and with so few shots and scoring opportunities," said Murray.

Mike Liut came within 8:25 of registering a shutout as the Caps scored the first four goals of the game. Included was an unassisted goal by recent Skipjack callup Alfie Turcotte, whose last NHL goal came April 6, 1985.

The Caps had only one shot in the third period -- and it resulted in the third goal of the season for Dino Ciccarelli, who also assisted on Mike Ridley's first-period score.

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad