KENNEWICK -- It has been nearly a month since Tri-City Americans coach Jim Hiller decided to pair Patrick Holland with Brendan Shinnimin and Adam Hughesman.
The result has been nothing short of spectacular, and the Montreal Canadiens have taken action to make sure Holland stays within their system.
Montreal signed Holland, 20, to a three-year contract Wednesday. As per club policy, financial terms of the agreement were not disclosed.
"It was pretty cool," said Holland, who signed Wednesday morning with agent Kevin Epp. "We had been talking a little bit back and forth, so it wasn't a surprise, but it's a relief to get it over with."
Holland, from Lethbridge, Alberta, is the second Tri-City player to sign an NHL contract in the last week. Shinnimin signed March 2 with the Phoenix Coyotes.
"Each situation is unique and different," Tri-City general manager Bob Tory said. "Patrick has had a great career here. It's an opportunity he has earned and deserves. It's nice that we can play a small role in helping these kids achieve their dreams."
Holland was acquired from Calgary with Rene Bourque on Jan. 12 in the deal that sent Mike Cammalleri and Karri Ramo to the Flames. Holland was a seventh-round draft pick (193rd overall) of Calgary in 2010.
"They had been watching me for a while before the trade happened," Holland said. "It's pretty cool that they traded for me. They aren't going to make a trade unless they liked what they saw. It was a good move for both of us."
The Canadiens already have two former Tri-City players on their roster -- goalie Carey Price and forward Scott Gomez. Both had outstanding careers with the Americans.
"I'm not even close to them yet," Holland said. "Don't put me in that basket yet."
Holland might not yet have NHL skills, but he does understand and speak French, which goes a long way with the Montreal fans and media.
"It's been awhile since I've really practiced my French," said Holland, who noted it has been 4 1/2 years. "I can read it fine, but if I try and talk, I forget words. I'm sure it won't take me long. I was fluent in grade 9."
Holland, who is on a 15-game point streak with four goals and 29 assists in that span, leads the Western Hockey League with 79 assists. In 67 games this season, Holland also has 24 goals and a plus-38 rating.
Holland became the latest member of the 100-point club last week, joining Shinnimin, who leads the WHL with 121 points, and Hughesman, fifth in the league with 105 points.
"I think the month of February accelerated that," Hiller said of his top line's scoring. "That group has played together on the power play all year, and they have been effective. When we put them together, they were our three leading scorers -- we didn't need an algorithm to figure that out. Holland and (Justin) Feser played well together, too. It's good that those players are interchangeable."
Though Holland leads the league in assists, he ranks seventh all time on the Americans' list for assists in a season. Brian Sakic leads the list with 122 (1990-91) and owns three of the top seasons. Stu Barnes has two of the top years, while Terry Degner had 81 in 1994-95.
Holland already has passed Daymond Langkow (73) and Gomez (78) this season.
"It's kind of cool, but you see a lot of guys who are successful in junior but don't do anything at the pro level," Holland said. "It's nice, but it doesn't do anything for my future."
* Annie Fowler: 509-582-1574; firstname.lastname@example.org