In August of 1990 and continuing through to mid December of the same year, the Washington Capitals seemed to continuously hold press conferences to announce the signing of some Eastern European player to a contract. First it was Peter Bondra. Then Mikhail Tatarinov. Then Dimitri Khristich. The latter two happened in-between periods of Caps games, with Home Team Sports introducing us to players with strange names and unknown skill levels. Fortunately enough, a couple of them panned out for us.
The 1990-9 season was a strange season. It was the season after the team’s first trip to the Conference Finals. It was the first season after the Caps let Scott Stevens go via free agency. It was the first Caps team in 15 years without a 30 goal scorer. It was a rough season, with John Kordic (7 games, 101 PIMs!), Nick Kypreos, Alan May, Dale Hunter and Al Iafrate all fighting anything that moved. But it was a season of potential, thanks largely to the three mysterious players the Caps had conjured up.
I remember Tatarinov and Khristich being among the first Russians allowed to freely leave to join the NHL (with Tatarinov being the first). I remember Bondra being perhaps the last true unknown star prospect; scouted by the late, great Jack Button and no one else. I was amazed that these three unknown players managed to step onto an NHL team and finish #10, 11 and 12 in team scoring. It was the beginning of something great in Washington and it was fun to watch Bondra and Khristich develop into legitimate players before our eyes.
It’s hard to believe that was 20 years ago this month.