Nolan began his career with the Erie Otters of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) in 2005–06, scoring just three goals in 33 games. He then spent two seasons with the Windsor Spitfires from 2006-2008, followed by two seasons with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds from 2008-2010.
In his first Season as a Greyhound Nolan would lead the offensively challenged and dead last OHL team with 16 goals and 27 assists in 64 games. He played in all situations, including acting as an enforcer for the team during the 2008-09 season. The following year Nolan would put up 23 goals and 25 assists in 49 games for the Greyhounds before joining the Ontario Reign of the ECHL to finish off his junior career.
Nolan was selected by the Los Angeles Kings in the seventh round (186th overall) in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. After the Greyhounds' season ended in 2010, Nolan was sent to the Ontario Reign of the ECHL. He only played three games with the team. On October 5, 2010, Nolan was signed by the Los Angeles Kings to a three-year, entry-level contract.
He spent the next two seasons with the Manchester Monarchs of the American Hockey League (AHL), where he totaled 14 goals and 39 points in 115 games. On February 11, 2012, Nolan was recalled to join the Los Angeles Kings, and was assigned uniform number 71. He played his first NHL game that same day, a loss to the New York Islanders. He scored his first NHL goal the following day in a victory over the Dallas Stars.
On May 6, 2012, Nolan scored his first career NHL playoff goal, helping the Kings sweep the St. Louis Blues in the Western Conference Semifinals of the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs. He later won the Stanley Cup with the Kings during the 2012 Stanley Cup Finals and 2014 Stanley Cup Finals
While with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds as a nineteen-year-old, Nolan was involved in an altercation with R.J. Mahalak of the Plymouth Whalers in March, 2009. In an unprovoked attack, Nolan punched Mahalak twice in the face, giving him a concussion as he fell to the ice and struck his head. As a result, Nolan received a 20-game suspension by the OHL. "They believed it was vicious enough for a 20-game suspension and they felt it was fortunate the player (Mahalak) wasn't hurt more severely", said Greyhounds' general manager Dave Torrie. "(But) that was one of the scariest things I've ever seen. He (Nolan) went after a player who wasn't going to fight. You have to pay consequences," said Whalers' head coach and general manager Mike Vellucci of the incident. In the NHL, Nolan has faced disciplinary action from the league on multiple occasions. On March 24, 2013, Nolan was fined $1,436.94 by the league for a cross-check to the head of Vancouver Canucks' forward Henrik Sedin. The fine was the maximum allowed under the league's Collective Bargaining Agreement.
In a game against the Edmonton Oilers on March 9, 2014, Nolan sucker punched unsuspecting Oilers' forward Jesse Joensuu after a scrum near the end of the second period. At the time of the punch, Joensuu's hands were being held by a linesman. Nolan was assessed a double-minor for the incident and was scheduled for a disciplinary hearing with NHL Director of Player Safety Brendan Shanahan the following day. On March 10, the NHL announced a one-game suspension for Nolan as a result of the incident.
Both Nolan's father, Ted Nolan, and his brother, Brandon Nolan, have played in the National Hockey League. Ted has also served as the head coach of the Buffalo Sabres and the New York Islanders.
Nolan is First Nation Ojibwe on his father's side having grown up in the Garden River First Nation near Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Canada. He is also a First Nation Maliseet on his mother's side from St. Mary's First Nation in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada. Nolan along with his father and brother created the Nolan's First Nations Hockey School in 2013, for the purpose of teaching First Nation's youth what it takes to be successful and how they can achieve greater things in life. Nolan continuously sets aside time during this busy schedule to visit First Nation communities around Canada.
Nolan is married to Laura Colella.