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Rangers' Boo Nieves says he can't be afraid about concussion history

Boo Nieves says that despite his concussion history

Boo Nieves says that despite his concussion history he can't be afraid to play his game.   Credit: Richard Harbus/Richard Harbus

TORONTO — Boo Nieves would rather look on the bright side of things. He is with the Rangers now, and that is what matters to him.

The 24-year-old third-year pro is back up with the big club through the Christmas roster freeze after recovering from yet another concussion suffered in the preseason. It was at least the third documented concussion for Nieves over the last three years, but the 6-3, 210-pound center, a second-round draft pick by the Rangers way back in 2012, said he isn’t worried about the long-term effects of his concussion history.

“No, because I’m feeling healthy,’’ he said recently. “I’m feeling good. I haven’t had any side effects that have been alarming. I’m feeling very clear-headed and I’m good to go.’’

Nieves, who was called up from Hartford Dec. 15 and has played two games, concedes that the high hit he took from the Devils’ Eric Gryba in the first game of the preseason “was definitely a really tough break,  frustrating, for sure.’’ He said he knew he was “in trouble’’ as soon as he was hit, but he wouldn’t comment on whether the hit, which was to the head/neck area, was clean. He did admit watching it on video “was pretty tough.’’

“You don’t like to see someone get hit like that, especially yourself,’’ he said. “It is what it is. There was no penalty called, or whatever, so it happened, and I’m just happy to be healthy again.’’

The concussion caused Nieves to miss the rest of the preseason, and he was sent to Hartford Nov. 8 once he was cleared to play. He played 12 games there, scoring three goals, with four assists and six penalty minutes, before being recalled when Jesper Fast suffered an upper body injury.

Entering training camp, with a lot of competition at the center spot from the likes of rookies Filip Chytil, Lias Andersson and Brett Howden — not to mention Mika Zibanejad and Kevin Hayes — Nieves said he still felt as though he had a good chance to make the Rangers out of camp. The concussion ended that, but he doesn’t focus on it, he said.

“Things happen for a reason, and you can’t look too into things like that,’’ he said. “The timing of (the injury), obviously, wasn’t great, but you know, it happened. New York did a good job of helping me get some time off, get everything that I needed. I went down to Hartford, played well, and I’m excited to be back here. I would have liked to have made the team out of camp, but that opportunity kind of passed me by after the injury, but once again here I am.’’

Nieves, who had a concussion his senior year at Michigan and another in his rookie year in Hartford in 2016-17, said he hasn’t changed the way he plays because of the injuries, and he insisted he isn’t ultra aware of avoiding hits.

“No, because that’s too much hesitation, and hesitation is what’s going to get you hurt,’’ he said. “So you have to just go into the game like you normally would, and you can’t worry about other things that are out of your control, like guys in your peripheral, and things like that. Things are going to happen, and you just have to be ready for them.’’

McLeod on the verge

Cody McLeod is back practicing and on the verge of returning from the broken bone in his hand that has kept him out of the lineup since Nov. 21.

McLeod injured his hand that night in a fight against the Islanders’ Ross Johnston — a fight that he wanted no part of. He’d already scored his first goal of the season (and first as a Ranger) in the game, and the Rangers were up 3-0, well on the way to a 5-0 win. McLeod, whose four fighting majors this season were tied for the most in the league (with Buffalo’s Zach Bogosian) entering Saturday, had no need, and no desire, to fight.

But Johnston clearly did.

“I get it, he’s trying to get some fire under their team to get going,’’ McLeod said. “I had to do it, but . . . Looking back on it, I wish I didn’t do it then, because of the result.’’

McLeod insisted he was not mad at Johnston for starting the fight. The 6-5, 235-pound Islanders winger was just doing his job, McLeod said, adding he’s been in that position himself, many times.

But McLeod couldn’t understand how Johnston didn’t get an instigator penalty on the play.

“If that’s not an instigator, I don’t know what you can classify an instigator penalty as,’’ McLeod said. “I was trying to draw a penalty, an extra two minutes. But I guess the refs didn’t see it that way. You watch it on video, it looks like that.’’

Instigator penalties — a minor for provoking a fight, that is accompanied by a 10-minute misconduct penalty — are rarely called anymore. Entering Saturday, of the 162 players who have had at least one fighting major this season, only eight were given an instigator.

Neal Pionk should have gotten one when he started a fight with Arizona’s Christian Fischer Dec. 14, but Rangers coach David Quinn said the referees did not want to give Pionk the misconduct penalty, so instead of an extra two minutes for instigation, they gave him a minor for unsportsmanlike conduct, instead. (The Coyotes scored on that power play, by the way, starting a comeback from a 3-0 deficit and going on to win in overtime, 4-3.)

McLeod was asked if the low likelihood of getting an instigator penalty has emboldened tough guys around the league to pick fights.

“No, I think there’s always a risk of getting the instigator penalty,’’ he said. “You never want to be shorthanded . . . You never want to put your team down.’’

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