WHEN Zak Butters went down with a syndesmosis ankle injury in round four and was ruled out for at least two months – a timeframe that has ballooned due to separate nerve damage – most thought Port Adelaide would be able to cover his absence adequately.

But those within the Power, who are more acutely aware of the 20-year-old's talents, were aware of how big a hole he would leave.

Port has won five of eight games with Butters absent, with their three losses coming against fellow premiership hopefuls Brisbane, the Western Bulldogs and Geelong.

He had resumed light running in early May before having follow-up surgery on nerve damage around his knee that has delayed his return. He has again got back to light running and the club is growing in optimism that Butters will be back later this home and away season.

Port Adelaide's Zak Butters walks off with an ankle injury during round four, 2021. Picture: AFL Photos

This week the Port youngster has been caught up in a COVID-19 protocols controversy as one of four players photographed at a swimming trial in Adelaide not wearing a mask.

From a football perspective, the Power will be hoping he will back on the field as soon as possible as comparing the club's numbers from last year, when Butters played all bar two games, the opening month of this season and then the eight games without him, it is clear how much the Power will benefit from his return. 

Champion Data shows that with Butters the Power ranked third last year for contested possession differential and second this year. Since his injury, they have ranked 11th. They were No.1 last year for clearance differential and fourth to round four this season, and have slumped to 11th since he's been missing.

They were also league-leaders with Butters last year for inside-50 differential and are ninth this season since his injury, while last year they ranked third for scores per inside-50 entry. That dropped to seventh in the first month of the season and in the period of round 5-13 they are 13th for that indicator.

Zak Butters of the Power celebrates the win during round four, 2021. Picture: AFL Photos

Butters' craft and class with the ball saw him named in All-Australian squad last season and Power forwards love to lead to his deft and smart disposals. The statistics suggest they have missed his kicking especially.

From the start of 2020 through to this year, Butters has a retention rate of 58.3 per cent and a marking percentage of 27.8 per cent from his kicks into the forward line – which is ranked third at Port Adelaide.

The Power overall were ranked third in the AFL for their kick inside-50 retention rate in 2020 (48.5 per cent) and since round five this season, they have dropped to 17th in the AFL for that key stat.

There has also been the less tangible elements of his injury, which has seen gun runner Karl Amon spend more time inside the centre square than on the wing, where the Power prefer him. And with Amon in there, Port Adelaide also hasn't had one of its other premier wingmen, Xavier Duursma, available due to his knee injury also suffered in round four. 

Butters, ranked elite as a mid-forward in AFL Player Ratings, might not catapult Port straight into pole position for the premiership when he returns. But as perhaps its best player, his value to the Power has been as clear when he is missing as much as when he is out there.

Port Adelaide 

With Butters

Without Butters

2020 Avg.

Rank

Rd 1-4 2021 Avg.

Rank

Rd 5-13 2021 Avg.

Rank

Contested Poss. Diff.

+7.1

#3

+13.2

#2

-2.8

#11

Clearance Diff.

+5.6

#1

+4.0

#4

-1.6

#11

Inside 50 Diff.

+10.0

#1

+7.0

#3

-0.5

#9

Time in Fwd Half Diff.

+6:07

#2

+3:14

#6

-4:50

#15

Score Per Inside 50 %

44.1%

#3

45.3%

#7

40.5%

#13

Kick Inside 50 Retention Rate

48.5%

#3

49.0%

#9

44.9%

#17

Kick Inside 50 to Mark %

17.2%

#12

20.6%

#7

16.3%

#16