NHK Trophy this week might be the site of yet another history-making performance by youngster Boyang Jin, who became the first person to land a quad lutz-triple toe in competition at Cup of China a few weeks ago. He's got another first in sight - the first to land four quads in one program - but for him to defeat Yuzuru Hanyu this week, it'll take more than just his quads.
Rocker Predictions: 2015 NHK Trophy
GOLD Yuzuru Hanyu JPN - There was a whole lot of shock at Skate Canada as Yuzuru Hanyu was one of the big names this season to have a disastrous short program on the Grand Prix. He eventually skated well enough to move up to the silver, but I'm sure he wanted to put up more of a fight against Patrick Chan. He's never been the most consistent of skaters, and we all know that, but for a lot of frustrated fans, it's his love-hate relationship with the triple lutz that just makes them pull their hair out. The latest in the rumor mill is that he's looking to do two quads in his short (and avoid that pesky lutz), which would be quite the upgrade for him. I'm guessing, though, that NHK Trophy will be a return to form for Hanyu, and it should be a cruise to gold this week. (Yes, I knocked on wood.)
SILVER Boyang Jin CHN - Oh right, did I mention that if he does land all four quads in his free skate that he will also be the first person to ever land three different quads in one program? Yeah, Boyang Jin is a heck of a jumping talent. And his technical scores are just astronomical, even without the big GOEs that are normally doled out to the top skaters in the world. You better believe he's going to be a podium contender this week. And if Hanyu makes mistakes like he did at Skate Canada, there could very well be a surprise winner here this week. One thing to note is that some were quick to typecast him as all jump and no substance, but take a look at his short program (above) - he may not be the best artist in the world, but he does skate to the music and pays attention to choreography.
BRONZE Maxim Kovtun RUS - Thanks to a second-place short program finish at Trophee Eric Bompard, Maxim Kovtun is in the running for the Grand Prix Final. His performance there certainly made him look a lot more confident than he was late last season, where it was almost like he forgot that he was a brilliant jumper. He's made it to the Final the past two years, and he's got a great shot this week at making it three in a row.
4. Konstantin Menshov RUS - At 32, Menshov still shows that he can hang with the best of them in the technical department. But he's an interesting one, because he's too good for the smaller competitions (we just saw him outclass a weak field at Merano Cup by 47 points) but he's a bit of an outsider at events like these. Clean programs are a must if he wants to stand on the podium at NHK this week.
5. Richard Dornbush USA - This is one of those fields where a strong Richard Dornbush can jump his way onto the podium. And we could say the same thing about Cup of China too, where he finished seventh after a spectacular waxel fall in the short program. I've reiterated probably way too many times that Dornbush, at his best, is a contender on the biggest stages. But until he gives a real indication that his jumps are reliable in competition, I'm afraid we are relegated to seeing potential rather than actual.
6. Grant Hochstein USA - A surprise fourth at Cup of China, Hochstein is looking to continue to build momentum into Nationals. He put down some very solid skating in Beijing and had the best international finish of his senior career there, and could very well be in the mix again this week in Nagano. A clean short program would do wonders for his chances this week and for his rep going into St. Paul in January.
7. Keiji Tanaka JPN - Eighth last year at Cup of China in his only career GP appearance, Tanaka has experienced a resurgence in his still-young career, and we saw that when he got silver at U.S. Classic with some solid skating. Don't forget that he was the World junior silver medalist four years ago, so he was supposed to be one of the up-and-coming stars in Japanese skating. We'll see how he handles the pressure of the biggest international competition he's been in in quite a while.
8. Takahito Mura JPN - This guy's competition-mind seems to have just fallen apart in the past few events. Mura went from qualifying for the Grand Prix Final last year to almost getting left off the Japanese team for Worlds, finishing 16th at Worlds, and then most recently, getting all of tenth at Skate America. The jumps just abandon him in competition, but I get the feeling that what he needs is a solid start in the short program for him to be vying for a medal again on the Grand Prix.
9. Elladj Balde CAN - So perhaps I was a tad bit premature in proclaiming Balde the breakthrough skater of the season. What he showed at Nebelhorn, though, was a surprisingly confident and consistent side that we haven't seen, and it looked like it would translate into the Grand Prix. But alas, he was 11th at Cup of China a few weeks later and we remembered why he struggles in competitions. That said, Balde could be a surprise this week, especially if he can repeat his Nebelhorn success.
10. Brendan Kerry AUS - Eighth at Skate America, Kerry is one of those skaters who hasn't yet gained the respect from the international judges simply because he hasn't put two solid skates down in one competition yet. He's an immensely talented jumper, but prone to make silly errors that drop his base value to the floor.
11. Michal Brezina CZE - Rough season? Yes. Brezina is in the double digits in his number of falls stat this season, and he recorded four more at Skate Canada on his way to an eighth-place finish. Thankfully, he's had a few weeks to regroup, and that might help him out a bit here.
12. Chafik Besseghier FRA - Tenth in the short program (and officially) at Bompard, Besseghier is up against a pretty hefty crew in Nagano this week. He'll need every one of his jumps to work for him to have any chance of climbing up from the bottom rungs.