Dave Christian was one of the NHL's most consistent right wingers in the 1980s. As a youth, his father, Bill, who played on the U.S. Olympic teams in 1960 and 1964, inspired him. The native of Warroad, Minnesota, just south of the Manitoba border, was a versatile athlete in his youth. He earned recognition as an All-State high school hockey player while also lettering in football, baseball and track. A standout with the University of North Dakota, Christian was drafted 40th overall by the Winnipeg Jets in 1979. Before joining the NHL, he spent several months with the U.S. national team as it prepared for the 1980 Olympic tournament. Christian scored 30 points in 59 exhibition games, then contributed eight assists in the seven memorable matches at Lake Placid. Although he worked as a center in college, Christian was used exclusively on the blue line by coach Herb Brooks.
Following the Olympics, he was given a rousing welcome and a key to the city of Warroad. Winnipeg Jets general manager John Ferguson was also on hand and presented Christian with his first multi-year NHL contract. Christian was still on cloud nine when he joined his new team and totaled 18 points in 15 games. He registered 71 points in his first full NHL season, then starred with 11 points in eight games at the 1981 World Championship. A few months later, Christian experienced disappointment with only one goal in six games at the 1981 Canada Cup when the United States finished fourth in the round robin. Prior to the 1981-82 season, the Jets named him team captain. He averaged just under a point per game during his three years in Manitoba before he was traded to the Washington Capitals following a contract dispute with the Jets.
Christian was busy during his first year in Washington. He totaled 81 points and was a plus 26. In 1984 he played in his second Canada Cup and helped the U.S. reach the semifinals. He recorded his finest year in 1985-86 with 41 goals and 83 points and was often paired with fellow speedsters Mike Gartner and Bengt Gustafsson on an effective and entertaining forward line.
In 1989 he enjoyed another strong showing at the World Championships with seven points in six games. Prior to the 1989-90 season, he traveled with the Capitals to the USSR on the NHL Friendship Tour. Later in the year, the Boston Bruins acquired Christian for his offense and experience. He enjoyed his longest spell in the playoffs by helping the Bruins reach the Stanley Cup finals against the eventual champion Edmonton Oilers.
Following the free agent signing of Glen Featherstone and Dave Thomlinson, the St. Louis Blues received Christian as part of the compensation package. He recorded his 10th 20-goal season but was put on waivers at the start of the next year. The Chicago Blackhawks claimed him and he played his last 69 games in the Windy City. Christian left the NHL with 340 career goals before playing his last 190 pro games in the IHL.