Engelland/Credit Penguins

The Bruins can draw up a game plan in an attempt to neutralize Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, or even defensemen Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek — two players not with Pittsburgh the last time Boston faced the Penguins last season.

But another player they’ll have to keep an eye on — if he’s in the lineup — after the puck drops tonight 7 p.m. at the CONSOL Energy Center is a little more difficult to prepare for. Deryk Engelland has emerged not just as a regular member of Pittsburgh’s top six on defense, but also as feared a fighter as there is in the NHL right now.

Already this season, Engelland has totaled six fights — including a knockout of Toronto’s Colton Orr and a bout during which he bloodied Philadelphia veteran Jody Shelley (see video at end of post). Dallas’ Steve Ott dubbed Engelland the “new super heavyweight” of the league.

The 28-year-old Engelland is getting his first legitimate chance to play in the NHL regularly, and he’s making the most of it. He skated in nine games with the Pens last season, but spent the previous six seasons toiling in the minors — racking up triple-digit penalty-minute totals.

Bruins winger Shawn Thornton knows where Engelland is coming from. Thornton spent nearly 10 full seasons punching his way through the American Hockey League before establishing himself as worthy of a full-time NHL job. Through word of mouth and Web sites like hockeyfights.com, Thornton has become aware of Engelland and admires the job the Pens rookie has done.

“I remember doing the same thing. He’s trying to make a name for himself,” said Thornton prior to leaving for Pittsburgh with his teammates Tuesday. “He spent enough time down there [in the minors] to know he doesn’t want to be down there anymore. I’ve got a lot of respect for a guy that does it down there. He’s finally getting a shot up here.

“People talk about it being a hard job up here, try doing it after getting off a bus after 16 hours of travel on a Sunday afternoon with 500 people in the stands. It’s a lot tougher down there.”

The 6-foot-2, 202-pound Engelland and the 6-2, 217-pound Thornton might meet up tonight.

“If it happen, it happens,” said Thornton.

If he has a chance, Thornton could get in touch with former Bruins teammate Byron Bitz to find out what not to do against Engelland. Bitz and Engelland fought last season with Engelland prevailing:

As promised, here’s a look at the Engelland-Shelley and Engelland-Orr fights:

Pittsburgh-Boston has become a grudge-match sort of game. Thornton and Engelland might be able to provide tonight’s tilt with even more animosity.