The ladies at NHK Trophy might just be the marquee event of the competition - well, at least for me. From start to finish, it's name after name that people recognize. Out of the 11 competitors, NINE of them have finished fourth or higher in a Grand Prix event at some point in their careers. Add to that the potential drama of Grand Prix Final qualification, in the form of Elizaveta Tuktamysheva anxiously awaiting the results, and you got yourself quite the exciting competition.
Rocker Predictions: 2015 NHK Trophy
GOLD Mao Asada JPN - After a short program that dropped jaws at Cup of China, Mao Asada left everyone scratching their heads in the free skate, especially after starting off with one of the best triple axels she's ever hit in competition. She ended up still winning the event, but she proved that she's vulnerable to the inconsistencies that she's had in the past. But the last two times she competed in Japan - at Worlds and Japan Open - she skated brilliantly. There's just something about Asada and international competitions in Japan.
SILVER Ashley Wagner USA - Skate Canada was quite the coup for Ashley Wagner, who just seems to keep improving when conventional knowledge says that she should have peaked a few times already. She hit three personal bests there on her way to the title, and she had even more room to improve considering she had two underrotations in her free skate. Her short program is one of the best of the season, and a strong short could set her up for an upset. The last time Wagner beat Asada was 2012 Four Continents - it's possible.
BRONZE Satoko Miyahara JPN - Third at Skate America, current Japanese champ Satoko Miyahara was shakier than we expected. But like Asada, she skated very strongly at Japan Open to open the season, and home ice advantage is nothing to sneeze at, especially when you're talking about huge time zone changes for a lot of the skaters here. She needs to be at least third to qualify for the Grand Prix Final, and you better believe that she and her team knows that.
4. Anna Pogorilaya RUS - Armed with improvements in her skating and musicality this season, Anna Pogorilaya has been plagued by crazy falls that look like they really hurt. She's got podium chances this week, but will need to finish silver or higher in order to get to the Final. For those who haven't really warmed up to Pogorilaya's skating, though, I challenge you to set aside your preconceptions for a couple minutes and watch her this week. She's a much better skater than you remember.
5. Kaetlyn Osmond CAN - Ok, I'm going to try this one again. The last time I made a prediction for Osmond (for a podium finish at Skate Canada), she went on to hit a triple flip-triple toe and a triple lutz, and then fall seven times in the next six minutes of skating. Regression to the mean tells us that she'll do better than that at NHK, but whether her confidence has returned is a whole different story. If she hits two clean programs, she could play the role of the spoiler here. But, of course, one crossover at a time.
6. Courtney Hicks USA - Sixth at Cup of China, Hicks was unusually inconsistent, doubling jumps that she's just been nailing earlier this season. The international panel really appreciates her dynamic jumps and blazing speed, as we saw in her two fourth-place showings last season on the Grand Prix. Can she break through in this tremendously deep field this week?
7. Alena Leonova RUS - In a nice warmup to NHK Trophy this week, Leonova won Merano Cup two weeks ago with two solid programs. But the last time she was on the Grand Prix, she fell apart and finished 8th at Skate Canada. So much of her success this week will really depend on her short program, which can vault her into the mid- to upper-60s if she's clean.
8. Mirai Nagasu USA - Looks like Nagasu has put the triple axel back on the shelf for the time being - and probably for good reason - as she prepares to peak for the second half of the season. She won Ice Challenge a few weeks ago after skating a solid free skate. But underrotations still plagued her there, and she will need to be sharper on the jumps this week to get herself in the mix.
9. Zijun Li CHN - Ninth at Cup of China, Li continues to frustrate skating fans all over the world. She's got a tough time putting two good programs out in competition. Very little tells me that she's going to be too much different this week.
10. Mariko Kihara JPN - Kihara was a solid sixth at Nebelhorn Trophy to start her season. She's going to be up against very stiff competition but could make some waves if she finds her stride.
11. Maria Artemieva RUS - Artemieva is a solid skater, but with only three types of triples (no loop and no flip), she will need to be really solid to even have a chance to be in the top eight this week.