As you may have already heard somewhere, the National Hockey League has locked out its players (because that’s just how things get done in the NHL) and that means no one gets to watch any hockey at all this year. Except that’s not true! In fact, you can still watch the Penguins play all season, as the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins of the AHL prepare for another run at the Calder Cup.

Most fans are only really familiar with the AHL as a developmental league, which it is, but as the highest level of professional hockey we’ll be seeing in North America for quite some time, it might be worth getting to know the regular players who are going to battle every day for the Penguins’ organization.

Today we’ll have a primer on the forwards who are on the team at the conclusion of the AHL preseason.

Eric Tangradi – Tangradi is an NHL forward, make no mistake. It’s hard to make the NHL as a power forward, but Tangradi is absolutely dominant at the AHL level. To the doubters who think he’s already a bust- he is only 23 years old. He may have finally been given a top-line shot in Pittsburgh this season if not for the pesky lockout. Instead, he’ll be a fixture on Wilkes-Barre’s top line and in front of opposing goalies.

Beau Bennett – Bennett is an exciting and creative player who looks like he’s going to live up to his pedigree as a first-round pick. His hands and instincts are incredible, and once he gets some consistent linemates and builds some familiarity with the team, he could be a stud in the AHL already. That said, he’ll need at least the season to get acclimated to the professional game. There were some offseason rumblings that Bennett might make the jump to the NHL this year, but honestly, at least a season in the minors will do wonders for him.

Philippe Dupuis – Dupuis (no relation) has mostly been a career minor-leaguer with a few stints in Colorado and Toronto. He brings a veteran presence to a young forward group and will be relied on to carry some of the offensive load. He’s the kind of player who would get called up to replace a guy like Tyler Kennedy or Dustin Jeffrey; probably best suited to the lower lines in the NHL.

Benn Ferriero – Ferriero has spent time in San Jose’s top-six, so he’s no stranger to the NHL spotlight. He plays the point on the power play for Wilkes-Barre and he would probably be the first forward recalled if something were to happen to a top-six guy like James Neal or Chris Kunitz. Ferriero isn’t an everyday top-line player in the NHL (obviously), but he could fill in in a pinch. He’ll provide some much-needed goal-scoring for the Baby Penguins.

Warren Peters – Peters has spent a decade between the AHL and NHL, bouncing around the Western Conference. He’s a bottom-liner, a grinder in the NHL, but in the minor leagues he can play a physical game while banging home some goals. He’s as a good a bet and any to inherit the captaincy in Wilkes-Barre from the departed Ryan Craig.

Zach Sill – Sill is 100% mucker-and-grinder. He’s sandpaper incarnate, a pest to opposing teams. He also plays well defensively and he skates well enough to get some offensive chances. Last year he put up 30 points playing that style, and comparing him to a guys like Matt Cooke and Chris Neil would give a good picture of the player he is. When Joe Vitale made the team last year, he did so by playing the way Sill would if he got the same chance. He’s still young, and could find himself on a bottom line in the NHL one day.

Trevor Smith – Smith is the classic case of a guy who stays on a bottom line in the NHL, but hangs up 50 or so points a year in the AHL. He’ll play in the top-6 for Wilkes-Barre and he’ll be counted on to help carry the load scoring.

Those are the forwards who would most realistically spend time in the NHL, but the roster is filled out with guys who, in all likelihood, will simply stay in the minor leagues.

Brian Gibbons – The good: He has talent a high compete level. The bad: He’s 5’8”, 170 lbs, and he isn’t skilled enough to make up for his lack of strength.

Riley Holzapfel – Bottom six forward.

Steve MacIntyre – He’s here to punch guys in the face.

Denver Manderson – Had to fight to make the roster, and got injured in the preseason. Probably headed to Wheeling, where he spent last season.

Jayson Megna – Another feisty forward who will have to compete to get any ice time. His career projection is still pretty foggy.

Paul Thompson – Has some nice hands and can score without much space, but the rest of his game isn’t where an NHL hopeful’s would be.

Keven Veilleux – At 6’5”, over 200 lbs, Veilleux’s power-forward playing style is certainly enticing. Sadly, injuries have derailed his career thus far and the fragile forward may never get to the big show, having missed so much of his developmental years.

From the perspective of an NHL fan, the forwards aren’t exciting. Only two of them figure to be regular NHL contributors down the line. More if you’re optimistic about Veilleux and Sill and Wheeling players Tom Kuhnhackl and Dominik Uher. But this is a good group for the AHL, and they’re going to play a fast, up-tempo style identical to the one run in Pittsburgh.

Stay tuned, we’ll go over the defensemen and goaltenders tomorrow.