DAN BUTLER was free to a good home last year.

>> IS THIS THE RECRUIT OF THE YEAR? WATCH THE DATA GAME IN THE PLAYER ABOVE 

Stuck at the end of a small forward logjam at Punt Road, the 2017 premiership player was left to consider his future after a season in which he was dropped on three separate occasions from Richmond's senior team.

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Staying at the Tigers beyond his existing contract had never appeared likely. Jason Castagna, Daniel Rioli, Shai Bolton, Jack Higgins and Sydney Stack had all surpassed Butler in the side's small forward ranks, leaving the lively 24-year-old assessing his options by as early as June 2019.

However, those options were limited.

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Carlton emerged as one potential destination, though the interest from Ikon Park dwindled significantly when Sydney goalsneak Tom Papley established himself as the club's priority trade target.

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It left St Kilda as his last chance of securing an AFL lifeline. However, even still, four players walked through the door at RSEA Park – Paddy Ryder, Dougal Howard, Bradley Hill and Zak Jones – before Butler's future was eventually assured in the dying seconds of the Telstra AFL Trade Period.

Fast-forward four weeks of the season, Richmond and Carlton – as well as just about every other team in the competition – would now be revisiting their scouting notes on the zippy forward.

Last week, Butler made the Tigers rue what they were missing, finishing with 14 disposals, three goals, seven score involvements and the maximum 10 AFL Coaches' Association Player of the Year votes in a resounding Saints victory against his former side.

This week, in the rearranged Thursday night primetime fixture, he'll now get the opportunity to also show the Blues what they missed out on when they overlooked him last October.

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Butler's bags since the season's restart – he has kicked seven goals from three appearances, while averaging a tick under 15 disposals per match – is only one part of a game that is defined by his pressure.

In an era where forward-half pressure is at the bottom line of every side's tactical plan for the season ahead, Champion Data notes that the St Kilda recruit ranks No.1 in the entire competition for forward-50 tackles – and by some distance from Tarryn Thomas and Hugh Greenwood in joint second.

When he gets an opportunity from his pressure – a holding the ball call, or he causes a bobble – his speed in our forward line is very noticeable

- St Kilda forwards coach Brendon Lade

He also ranks No.1 among all general forwards for forward-half pressure points, No.1 for tackles, No.3 for score involvements, No.4 for AFL Player Ratings points and No.5 for score assists.

Not bad for a player on the AFL scrapheap last year, who only cost the Saints pick No.56 in a cut-price deal from the Tigers.

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"He's added a lot of consistency to our forward line," St Kilda's forwards coach Brendon Lade told AFL.com.au.

"He's unwavering in his efforts, so you know exactly what you're going to get each week from him.

"He knows he's a pressure player that gets limited opportunities, so for him to make the most of them is part of his game. He's done very well at this stage to convert a lot of half-chances into goals for us.

"When he gets an opportunity from his pressure – a holding the ball call, or he causes a bobble – his speed in our forward line is very noticeable. His ability to get to the opposition quickly is helping us get some easy scores inside 50." 

Dan Butler

2020 avg.

Gen Fwd Rank

Fwd Half Pressure Points

31.7

#1

Tackles

5.3

#1

AFL Player Rating points

12.0

#4

Contested Possessions

6.3

#7

Score Assists

1.5

#5

Score Involvements

6.0

#3

Richmond copped the full brunt of Butler's speed, efficiency and accuracy on Saturday evening. Rubbing salt into the wound for the reigning premiers, the performance of the former fan-favourite came on a weekend where the Tigers dipped to 15th in the competition for pressure stats.

It also came in a clash where Damien Hardwick had dropped dual premiership forward Rioli, as well as fellow premiership stars Marlion Pickett and Jack Graham, for their inability to impact games as Butler has for St Kilda so far this season.

But Richmond's loss has been St Kilda's gain, with Butler seen as a key piece of an off-season that included six arrivals, all of which came full of experience to aid a developing Saints rebuild under impressive new coach Brett Ratten.

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A 2017 premiership player, Butler was complemented by a three-time premiership star and former best and fairest winner in Hill, a 243-game ruckman in Ryder and a member of Sydney's 2016 Grand Final side in Jones.

Howard, one of the best key-position defenders available in last year's market, and Ryan Abbott, who spent three years engrained in Geelong's successful culture under Chris Scott, were also key additions.

However, perhaps Butler's chief aim upon arriving at St Kilda was to provide valuable depth to a talented young forward line that already featured smaller options like Jade Gresham, Jack Lonie, Dean Kent, Nick Hind and Matt Parker.

The fact he's stood out above the rest so far this year is testament to a summer focused on his strengths, and a shutdown period spent dedicated to ensuring he could make the most of his second chance.

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"As soon as he starts focusing on something other than pressure, his game wavers a little bit," Lade said.

"So, we gave him a more pointed focus. It was just, 'get the pressure done and the rest of your game will take care of itself'. I think he's No.1 for forward-50 tackles in the AFL at the moment, so he's doing a brilliant job of that.

"Our challenge as a coaching group is to make sure he keeps doing that, because that's how he plays good footy."