The grocery store shelves might be empty, but the market for hockey players in the Soviet Union is sufficiently stocked that the Washington Capitals made their second purchase in less than three months.

The Capitals announced last night that they had signed 21-year-old center/left wing Dimitri Khristich of Sokol Kiev.

Khristich (pronounced Chris-tich) will be the second-youngest Soviet to play in the NHL and is the youngest to be allowed to leave as a result of negotiations. The Capitals have been involved in negotiations with Khristich, Sokol Kiev and the Ukrainian hockey federation since they used their sixth choice (120th overall) to take Khristich in the 1988 draft. The pace of discussions picked up in the last couple months after the Capitals signed Soviet defenseman Mikahil Tatarinov.

"Dimitri is one of the significant young players in the Soviet Union," said Jack Button, the Capitals director of player personnel and recruitment, who has done most of the work in these foreign ventures.

"I'm very glad I'm able to come here," Khristich said through John Chapin, who has been interpreting for Tatarinov and will remain with the team for the balance of the season. "It will be a lot easier to adapt with Misha here."

Khristich signed a contract for two years plus an option year. General Manager David Poile refused to reveal Khristich's salary or the transfer fee that the Capitals had to pay Sokol Kiev. There was some indication that the transfer fee paid to Moscow Dynamo for Tatarinov was between $200,000 and $400,000. A source said Tatarinov will make $225,000 this season.

Khristich will practice with the Capitals Thursday and play Friday, Saturday and Sunday with the Baltimore Skipjacks. He is expected to join the Capitals for their game Monday night in New York.

"Our thinking with all of our young players is to put them in a position to be successful," Poile said of starting Khristich in Baltimore. "Tatarinov was older {24} and more of a known commodity."

Tatarinov hopped off a plane and into the Capitals' lineup. In just 22 games, he has become an integral part of the team.

"Very, very good," Tatarinov said of Khristich in his limited but improving English before the Capitals faced the Flyers at Capital Centre.

"I hear that he's a talented player with a lot of potential," Capitals Coach Terry Murray said. "We'll give him every opportunity and see where he fits in. If he's at all like Mikhail Tatarinov, he will be a good hockey player."

Khristich is the youngest Soviet player to be allowed to leave with the full blessing of his country, hockey federation and team. Only a year ago, the Soviets were only allowing older players to leave for the NHL. But in the interim, the Soviet Union has taken dramatic, and difficult, steps toward a market economy. In that changing economic environment, sports teams and federations have to worry about financing their operations. Trading players for western currency (often Swiss francs) is one way to pay the bills.

"Perestroika and economics," Button said of the reasons for the change.

Khristich is 6 feet 2 and 187 pounds. He played center most of last season, when he had 14 goals and 22 assists in 47 games. The 36 points was the third-highest on his team; the 22 assists were good for second. In 1988-89, he had 17 goals and eight assists in 42 games. This season, he played mostly left wing, but he is expected to revert to center here.