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Owen Nolan faces long odds as he tries to find a spot on the Canucks

Sep 26, 2011, 12:34 AM EDT

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Canucks Oilers Hockey

It’s tough enough for a 39-year-old veteran to make it in the NHL—let alone one coming off of a season in Switzerland that is forced to make an NHL team on a tryout. That’s exactly the challenge Owen Nolan is facing during training camp this season. After playing in 1200 NHL regular season games and netting 422 career goals, Nolan is being asked to prove his worth before the Canucks are willing to make any commitment.

Alain Vigneault has been happy with Nolan’s play throughout training camp and pleased once again during the Canucks 4-3 loss to the Sharks on Sunday night. The first overall pick in the 1990 draft could hypothetically bring an element to the defending Western Conference champs that they could use—a gritty, talented body to put in front of the net.

Of course, there’s a reason that he’s been out of the league for a season. In a league where players can’t lose a step—he’s lost two. Throughout his two decade long NHL career, he’s never been able to play a full 82 game season. It’s hard to believe that a body that has been through so many wars would magically find health as he approaches his 40th birthday. Playing Nolan’s style of game for twenty years is much different than a guy like Mark Recchi playing twenty years of his particular style. Endurance and durability are questions that Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault have thought about:

“Can the body hold up the pace and can his body sustain it on a consistent basis? You have to be able to practise and play to maintain a high tempo. He’s playing today. Is he going to be able to practise tomorrow? That’s part of the body being able to hold up at that age. He’s been able to follow the pace and has brought the skill he might still have — those hands are still there — and he goes to the net hard.

“That power forward type of player, if we could add it to our group, we would.”

The former Sharks captain understands the questions surround his worth, but he’s not ready to hand ‘em up quite yet. Most successful veterans acknowledge that the passion to play the game is almost as important as skill they near retirement. Nolan explains that the fire burns just as bright as ever:

“I know I’m not 20, but the willingness to compete and still do that is there and playing physical has been part of my career and I’m not going to stop. Sometimes you lose a step, but the longer you play the smarter you get. You learn to read certain situations and how to react to them so you don’t get caught out of position.”

Nolan has played for six NHL organizations throughout his lengthy NHL career. If he wants to add the Vancouver Canucks to the list that already includes the Nordiques/Avalanche, Sharks, Maple Leafs, Coyotes, Flames, and Wild, he’ll need the Vancouver organization to value his experience and leadership as much as his play on the ice. There are younger players signed who are itching for an opportunity to play energy roles on the Canucks this season. Players like Cody Hodgson, Mark Mancari, Marco Sturm, and Victor Oreskovich who are all battling to solidify their roles on the team.

Would the Canucks be willing to look past players who are younger, faster, or more physically imposing for a man in the twilight of his career? Thus far in training camp, he certainly hasn’t embarrassed himself throughout his try-out. But has he done enough to make the team?

Update: Minutes after we posted this article, reports surfaced that the Canucks have released Owen Nolan from his professional tryout. Impeccable timing as usual…

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