ST KILDA small forward Dan Butler is facing a race against the clock to be fit for round one after dealing with a lingering ankle issue across the past few months.
The 27-year-old underwent surgery after the elimination final loss to Greater Western Sydney last September, before requiring a cleanout in December.
Butler is yet to train with the main group this year and was a notable absentee during a two-hour session in 30-degree heat at RSEA Park on Wednesday morning.
The former Tiger is expected to run on Friday and is aiming to transition back into full training within the next three weeks, ahead of the club's match simulation against Essendon (February 23 at RSEA Park) and practice match against North Melbourne (March 3 at RSEA Park).
Butler had one of his best seasons yet in 2023, booting a personal best 33 goals from 24 appearances, to go with 4.2 tackles per game.
Star key forward Max King completed a modified program on Wednesday but is expected to transition into full contact training next week.
The Saints have nursed the spearhead through the first half of the pre-season program, following a 12-month period that included three bouts of shoulder surgery, most recently in September, but the 2018 pick No.4 has banked a comprehensive block of conditioning.
Young gun Mattaes Phillipou was back on the track on Wednesday and moving without any concerns after being sidelined with turf toe in the early part of January.
Anthony Caminiti completed a running session away from the main group alongside Dougal Howard, who had a lighter day to manage his knee, as he continues to work his way back from the hamstring issues that have hampered him across his second pre-season at Moorabbin.
Inside midfielder Brad Crouch has been managed across the pre-season after two bouts of off-season surgery following a strong season by the former Crow.
The 30-year-old underwent an arthroscope on his knee and thumb surgery last September after carrying injuries across 2023, but is on track to be ready to start the season.
Tim Membrey didn't train on Wednesday, but like Crouch, the key forward had his workload managed following a challenging 2023 campaign that was limited by knee issues.
Father-son prospects Boston Everitt and Elwood Peckett completed a week-long training block with the AFL squad on Wednesday while their dads watched on in front of the Danny Frawley Centre.
Both are eligible to be drafted by the Saints in the 2024 AFL Draft after Justin Peckett played 252 games in the red, white and black during the 1990s and 2000s, while Peter 'Spida' Everitt played 180 of his 291 games with St Kilda before moving to Hawthorn and then Sydney.
St Kilda starts the new season with a trip down the highway to face Geelong at GMHBA Stadium on March 16.