PLANS were already in place for Zak Butters to have season-ending shoulder surgery after Vic Metro's final game of the NAB AFL Under-18 Championships.
The midfielder from the Western Jets had been carrying the complaint for some time but had hoped to impress at national level, get through the carnival and then go under the knife.
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It nearly went to plan, until he suffered a setback with the shoulder early in the title-deciding game against South Australia and had his final outing cut short.
Recruiters haven't seen Butters in action since, and he also sat out testing at the NAB AFL Draft Combine as he continues his rehabilitation from the injury. But there is no sense of Butters being out of sight and out of mind for scouts and he is tipped to be an early selection.
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Butters' TAC Cup numbers stack up nicely – he averaged 20 disposals (half contested) in 12 games for the Jets, plus nearly four tackles and four clearances a game. But his statistics only show some of his impact on contests, with his skill level high and his ability to be damaging by foot.
The 18-year-old likes to run with the ball and take the game on, and he's crafty when stationed closer to goal.
There's no getting around the fact Butters is on the smaller side, so he probably won't ever be the type of midfielder to build an engine room around. He will put on size once he's in the system and past his shoulder issues, but at 180cm and 71kg Butters is still at the shorter end.
Butters plays a little like Richmond's Shane Edwards – not the big, hustling and bustling midfielder, but one who makes the most of his touches and brings others into the game.
Clubs widely see Butters as a top-20 pick, with some viewing him closer to the No.10 mark. It's hard to see Butters still being on the board in the second round.
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Butters will excite with how clearly he thinks through situations: he's cool under pressure and with a deft kick or quick handball can start a play. You like him having the ball.