As I noted in my analysis of the Grand Prix Final spots, the ladies’ event at the 2016 NHK Trophy is going to be the most interesting in terms of qualifying. An uncharacteristic sixth-place finish by Ashley Wagner last week has put her on the bubble for the Final, with six skaters here now with paths to grabbing one of the last three spots. Pins and needles all around in Sapporo this week.
GOLD Anna Pogorilaya RUS – Her Rostelecom Cup win was one of the strongest of her entire career. Pogorilaya was confident and exact in the way she put down those two performances on her way to a blowout victory. At this point, I really don't expect too much different from her now. She doesn't skate intimidated anymore, and that's been the big revelation this season. And even among this strong of a field, I'm expecting the World bronze medalist to just skate lights out and race on to Marseille for the Final.
SILVER Satoko Miyahara JPN – Even without the step sequence invalidation heard around the world, Miyahara still had a disappointing opening Grand Prix at Skate Canada. Two underrotations and a flip edge call in the short pulled her out of the running for the title, and a couple more underrotations plus the invalidated step sequence left her with the bronze. But this will be her home Grand Prix, and she has a habit of skating really strongly in Japan. I think the Grand Prix Final is definitely in her sights this week.
BRONZE Alaine Chartrand CAN – Bold prediction of the day. I think it's time for a Chartrand breakthrough this season. She's shown that she is more than capable of putting down a strong free skate, and she did that at Autumn Classic earlier in the season. So now it's time for her to give herself the opportunity she needs with a strong short program. If she delivers two clean programs, she's very much podium material.
4. Maria Sotskova RUS – Silver at Trophee de France, her debut Grand Prix - not bad at all for the World junior silver medalist in her first senior season. Next to Pogorilaya, Sotskova mathematically has the second strongest chance at getting into the Final, and a podium finish will help a lot with those chances. The field here is a completely different look from the field at Trophee de France, so it will be interesting to see where she stands here relative to the other top ladies.
5. Wakaba Higuchi JPN – Bronze at Trophee de France, Higuchi has also been strong in her senior season debut. But her tendency to pop jumps has been her biggest nemesis so far this season, as those errors take the base values down so much that she's no longer as competitive as she should be on the technical side. Her goal here, though, is to put down two solid programs and set herself up well for Japan Nationals in a month. And a place in the Grand Prix Final would just be icing on the cake.
6. Mirai Nagasu USA – Count her as the biggest dark horse here at NHK Trophy. Nagasu currently holds the highest short program score delivered by any American woman this season - a feat she achieved at Autumn Classic a couple months ago. But she has since not been able to capitalize on that, with a dismal ninth at Skate Canada after a good number of mistakes. At her best, she is challenging for one of the top three spots here. Will we see a more sure-footed Nagasu this week? If we do, she could very well be the one who lifts teammate Ashley Wagner to a Grand Prix Final spot.
7. Elizabet Tursynbaeva KAZ – Fifth at Rostelecom Cup, Tursynbaeva has had an up-and-down season so far. This competition will be an interesting one for her simply due to the depth of the field here. If her component scores match up well with the other top skaters, she could definitely be an outside threat for the podium.
8. Karen Chen USA – Seventh place last week at Cup of China may be nothing to write home about, but if you peel back the layers on that placement, you'll see that this was a huge step forward for Chen. We haven't seen a free skate like that from Chen since her bronze at Nationals a couple of years ago. And it may be a sign that she is able to put the jumps back together after a season of inconsistency and boot problems.
9. Yura Matsuda JPN – A solid sixth in her Grand Prix debut at Rostelecom Cup, Matsuda is flying a bit under the radar this week among all the starpower. She's got some great loop combos in her repertoire - don't miss them.
10. Dabin Choi KOR – Seventh at Skate Canada, Choi has the jumps and has been working hard on the components. It will be tough for her to really break into the top half here given the depth.
11. Nicole Rajicova SVK – Seventh at Rostelecom Cup, Rajicova comes into NHK Trophy with solid skating but less technical difficulty than the other women here. And that will be the biggest obstacle for her to make some waves this week.