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Liles, Parenteau, Morrison top first-month surprises

by Dave Lozo
Every season, we are reminded with the force of a Deryk Engelland overhand right that no one knows anything about hockey. Players who are so far off the map that Tom Hanks could've spent four years living on them appear out of nowhere to have sensational seasons to the surprise of everyone.

The following is a list of seven skaters who had the most surprising Octobers of anyone in the League. A lot of these players on this list were cast away (Is the Tom Hanks reference starting to make sense now?) by other teams as recently as last season and are showing a potential breakout season could be in the making.

John Michael Liles, D, Avalanche
-- Peruse the list of the NHL's assist leaders. At the very top, you won't find Sidney Crosby or playmaker extraordinaire Joe Thornton. Instead you'll find Liles, who is tied for the League lead with 11 assists and recently broke the record for most consecutive games (nine) to start a season with an assist by a defenseman. He is tied for the League lead in points by a defenseman with someone else on this list, and is outscoring fantasy studs Mike Green (who was injured for most of October), Nicklas Lidstrom and Shea Weber.

"What can you say? He's playing great," Avs forward Matt Duchene said. "He's riding a hot streak, been a great offensive defenseman for us. That's something we lacked a little bit last year at times."

PA Parenteau, RW, Islanders -- Wondering how the Isles have managed to stay near the top of the Eastern Conference despite playing all of October without Mark Streit and Kyle Okposo and part of the month without John Tavares? A lot of it has had to do with Parenteau, who has 2 goals and 6 assists in 9 games. Offense never was a problem for him in the AHL, but he mainly was used as a shootout specialist for the New York Rangers last season. Now he's showing he can do it all with the Islanders.

"Last year, I kind of got a shot," Parenteau said before the season. "I think I did pretty good when I played with the Rangers. I'm ready to show what I can do. I know I can play at this level."

Brendan Morrison, C, Flames -- After posting a respectable but somewhat disappointing 12 goals and 30 assists with the Washington Capitals last season, the best Morrison could do in terms of finding a new job during the offseason was a tryout contract with the Vancouver Canucks. But with just 1 assist in four preseason games, the Canucks decided to release the veteran. The Flames swooped in and signed Morrison, who now leads the team in scoring with 3 goals and 6 assists. Not bad for someone who was looking for work Oct. 3.

"I figured I could still play," Morrison told the Montreal Gazette. "It's always nice to show yourself and prove to others who think you can't do it that you can still do it."
Matt Cullen, C, Wild -- At 33 and in his first season with a new team, Cullen is off to a start that has him on pace for a career season. He has 3 goals and 7 assists in nine games. His best season in the League was a 25-goal, 49-point season with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2005-06. He's been a consistent 40-point player since, but he's showing signs that a 60- or 70-point season is within reach.
"He was very good," coach Todd Richards said of Cullen to the St. Paul Pioneer Press after he had a goal and assist in a 5-2 Wild win against the Oilers on Oct. 14. "There were a number of times from the bench, you were, 'Ohhh, who had that opportunity, who made that play?' And a lot of times you looked and No. 7 (Cullen) was the one making the play or having the opportunity."
James Wisniewski, D, Islanders -- Unfortunately for Wisniewski, most of the notoriety he received in October was the result of his two-game suspension for an obscene gesture he directed at Rangers pest Sean Avery. But when he's been in the lineup, he's been a savior for the Islanders. Wisniewski has 11 points in seven games -- his career high in points is 30, set last season with the Anaheim Ducks. With Streit out for five months, Wisniewski is showing he can fill the role of offensive defenseman perfectly. He's averaging a team high 6:06 of ice time on the power play, which ranks third in the League at 28.3 percent.
Known for his toughness, Wisniewski now is showing he can contribute offensively.
Andrew Ladd, LW, Thrashers -- Of all the potential players who would become the team's leading scorer in the post-Ilya Kovalchuk era, not many thought it would be Ladd. But with 4 goals and 6 assists in nine games, Ladd not only is leading Atlanta in scoring, but he also has the most points of the  many ex-Chicago Blackhawks who were sent packing after winning the Stanley Cup last season. That includes Thrashers teammate Dustin Byfuglien and Toronto's Kris Versteeg. The 24-year-old Ladd had just 38 points in 82 games last season, but that was due in part to being a depth forward on a loaded team. So far this season, he's showing he can carry the load offensively.
"I feel good," Ladd said. "I think I'm getting a lot of opportunities to play in different situations, like the power play and penalty kill. It's been fun to play a lot and be involved all the time. I think that's translated into feeling better out there."
Clarke MacArthur, LW, Maple Leafs -- His 6 goals and 2 assists in nine games are surprising but not unprecedented. Last season with the Sabres, MacArthur had 5 goals and 2 assists in first 9 games. However, he finished with just 16 goals and 19 assists in 81 games. The 25-year-old is at it again this season, and he's hoping he can learn from last season's drop-off in an effort to avoid a repeat showing this season.

"Every game it seems like I've been getting a good opportunity and putting it in," MacArthur told the Toronto Star. "My linemates have been finding me all over the ice; some of the passes I've gotten this year, I haven't had in years. So I'm going to keep shooting and riding this thing as long as I can."

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo

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