Ottawa Senators enforcer Chris Neil was standing in the depths of the Bell Centre Wednesday afternoon following his team’s practice in LaSalle, wearing a broad, gap-toothed grin that showed him to be a few Chiclets shy of a full package.

And the man whose every molecule Canadiens fans will detest (again) beginning Thursday night was speaking eloquently, almost fondly of a Habs rival.

This is how you build a bitter, heated rivalry?

“When he’s going, their team is going,” Neil said of Canadiens’ Brandon Prust, who like the Senators heavyweight will bring a surly attitude and important energy to Game 1 of the Eastern Conference quarter-final.

It’s not so much if as when Neil and Prust’s gloves will fall off their fists this series, or that they’ll at least cross swords.

“I look at (Prust) as a leader and for me, we’re similar players. I look forward to the challenge. It’s right up my alley, that style of game. I’m hoping we’re going to be out against each other.

“I’m not worried about that,” Neil said of a Prust matchup. “Whenever I’m on the ice, I’ll go out, work hard, finish my checks and hopefully I chip in.”

Canadiens fans would have been terribly conflicted had they listened to Neil at full length. The 33-year-old will be, and should be, one of their prime vocal targets Thursday. But in conversation on the eve of the opener, he was engaging, funny, thoughtful, even profound.

This is a ruffian who in 779 NHL games over 11 seasons, all with the Senators, has spent 2,005 minutes in penalty boxes — the equivalent of nearly 33½ games?