Rookie Rankings: Canadiens rise

Rookie forwards Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk are playing well for the Habs. Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images

As the NHL season approaches March, teams are nearly one-third of the way through this shortened campaign. Moving forward means increased intensity, and this group of rookies will have to step up their games in order to survive the added pressure. Over the next month, the cream will rise to the top in this rookie race, and those who are prepared for the workload will have the best chance to be on or near the top of the mountain.

Here's the Calder Trophy race update as of Tuesday, Feb. 19, based on my own viewing of their performances as well as my talking with contacts within the game. This week's update also includes analysis on what these young players will have to work on if they want to be more than just a name in a race for top rookie.

1. Cory Conacher, forward, Tampa Bay Lightning
Previous rank: No. 1

When you stop and think about what is transpiring with the Lightning, things look good for Conacher. General manager Steve Yzerman understands the value of veteran leadership and the Lightning have a locker room with plenty of vets helping their young players. Martin St. Louis is the perfect fit for that model, and who better to relate to the 5-foot-8 undrafted forward? St. Louis is exactly the guy to help him realize how to boost his offense and play with an edge. Building core strength and balance will be key for Conacher to get to the top of his game. When I worked for Tampa Bay, I saw firsthand just how well conditioned St. Louis was (and is to this day at age 37). He serves as a great example for Conacher. The team is currently struggling to win consecutive games, and the diminutive center has slowed in his production. However, he still leads all rookies with 13 points in 14 games and is making an impact.