Like any small man in a big-man's game, Dennis Maruk has had to contend with skeptics about his business of dazzling all parties concerned with his spectacular play.
As he approached junior hockey, it was a given that the Toronto-reared lad would skate for the local Marlies. He started his OHA career that way until a blockbuster trade engineered to unite Mark Howe with his brother, Marty, sent Maruk's rights sailing down highway 401 to the London Knights. He was so displeased with the move that he contemplated quitting hockey to play lacrosse. He discovered that he had quite the knack as a goaler. But when he considered the lack of money in the sport and the wise words of his sister, he hopped back onto a set of blades and became an offensive hurricane on behalf of the Knights.
In spite of his scoring genius, he was passed over by a number of NHL teams in the 1975 draft because of his small stature. It wasn't until choice number 21 that the California Golden Seals secured his rights.
As he entered the NHL in 1975-76, he sported a fu manchu moustache that was not exactly fearsome in appearance. What was frightening for the opposition, however, was his ability to steal pucks and explode down the ice on breakaways. There were few players in the league who engineered as many one-on-none scoring chances as Maruk. He was fleet of foot, could stickhandle smoothly, and carried a wrist-shot that packed some pop.
After a very successful inaugural season with the Seals, the club folded and resurfaced as the Cleveland Barons. Maruk made the transition and adhered to what he called an individual style of play. With an awareness of the Baron's financial troubles, the name of the game was to score big to ensure another shot at the big-time after the team's demise. As such, he continued to pour in a healthy supply of points until the club's assets were absorbed by the Minnesota North Stars.
In a questionable move, the North Stars unloaded his rights to the Washington Capitals, in spite of his impressive numbers. It seemed that the diminutive centreman was having difficulty securing the respect that he deserved. The Stars evidently preferred to invest in their bigger prospect, Bobby Smith.
The Stars' loss, however, was a clear gain for the Caps. In Washington, Maruk caught fire as one of the NHL's top scorers. In his second full season with the club, he potted 50 goals as a mere warm-up to his third campaign when he poured in 60 goals and 76 assists for a total of 136 points.
But again, in spite of his phenomenal output, he was traded back to the Minnesota North Stars for the start of the 1983-84 campaign. The Stars were in the process of giving up on centre Bobby Smith and decided that perhaps Maruk would be useful after all.
The move back to Minneapolis was his final NHL destination. He skated for another five-plus seasons of reasonably solid offensive production before being demoted to the Kalamazoo Wings of the IHL where he retired in 1988-89.
In considering his prime years with Washington, only nine players in league history have scored as many goals in a single season as Dennis Maruk and only eight players equaled or surpassed his single-season point totals. As a result, Maruk was selected for the All-Star team in 1978 and 1982.