There's really nothing else to call NHK Trophy when Yuzuru Hanyu is in the field. This will be his sixth appearance at his home Grand Prix - and he seems to either want to win or get fourth. But other than Hanyu as the favorite, skating fans will be very interested in the American showdown between Jason Brown and Adam Rippon, just two months before the U.S. Championships happen in January.
NHK Trophy predictions
#GPFigure (no official hashtag / unofficial: #NHK17)
GOLD Yuzuru Hanyu JPN - Two years ago at this very competition was where Hanyu made a huge splash into the record books (only to do it again two weeks later at the Grand Prix Final). He comes back to NHK this season with the two same programs that he had two years ago here, and is hoping to brush aside his two silver medals so far this season. And without another all-around skater with loads of quads in this competition, it should very much be a walk in the park for Hanyu to grab his fourth NHK title.
UPDATE: At around 12 p.m. Osaka on Friday, Hanyu official withdrew from competition.
UPDATE: On the first day of practices, Yuzuru Hanyu took a bad spill on his quad lutz and hurt his right ankle. He took some time off practice and then went back to practice to do his runthrough without jumps. His status is still to be determined.
SILVER Adam Rippon USA - I'm pretty sure I switched silver and bronze five times before I decided on this one. But I'll tell you I'm still not at all certain how this matchup between Rippon and Brown will go. It is an important competition for both, as there is momentum and Grand Prix Final chances on the line. What will Rippon's strategy be this week with respect to the quad lutz? He will need it (or at least a fully-rotated version of it) to get himself ahead of Brown. And after his injury last season, he's back looking as strong as ever. Can he break through here and take the first showdown between him and Brown this season?
BRONZE Jason Brown USA - After a silver at Skate Canada, Brown comes in with a grand chance to qualify for the Grand Prix Final. He was in a similar position last season when he ended up uncharacteristically inconsistent and finished seventh (he and his team later found out that he was dealing with the beginnings of a stress fracture at that point). I don't see that kind of meltdown happening again this week, but the big question is always how that quad is going to be and how many he will attempt. He can easily get another silver here, so long as that quad toe is somewhere to be found (and that triple loop is also there as well).
4. Sergei Voronov RUS - Silver at Nepela and gold at Minsk, Voronov is coming in as the sleeper Russian in the men's field. He has been overshadowed in the past two seasons by his younger teammates, even though he has put up some solid performances on the Grand Prix. I expect his consistency to put him close to the podium here.
5. Michal Brezina CZE - Sixth at Skate Canada, Brezina seems to have found his rhythm again on his jumps, especially that quad salchow, which is back in the short program. Maybe one competition isn't enough to judge his progress, but I'm sensing that he's gaining some momentum this season and that - perhaps - he has hit his stride again.
6. Dmitri Aliev RUS - The World junior silver medalist was sixth in his Grand Prix debut a few weeks ago, but that was after a strong short program put him in third and in medal contention. His biggest obstacle, as we saw him Moscow, was his stamina in the free skate. And if he can overcome that here in Osaka, he's really got a shot at the podium.
7. Nam Nguyen CAN - Seventh at Rostelecom Cup, Nguyen has shown signs of the brilliance that took him to fifth at Worlds back in 2015. But what he's lacked is the consistency in delivering those difficult jumps - and when you are sporting two quads in the short, you can't be making the kinds of mistakes that he's making and still hope to finish high in the standings. He will for sure be looking over his shoulder at teammate Keegan Messing.
8. Keegan Messing CAN - Eighth at Skate Canada, Messing is a late substitution after the withdrawal of Patrick Chan. And the fact that Messing is getting this opportunity for more international exposure says a lot about where Skate Canada is positioning him ahead of the Canadian Championships in January. His bronze at Autumn Classic proved that he has the ability to grab one of those two Olympic spots. This will be a crucial competition for him to make his case.
9. Kazuki Tomono JPN - Fifth at US Classic to start the season, Tomono is looking to have a strong first Grand Prix on the senior circuit. He was fifth at Japan Nationals last season, so you know he's got some talent.
10. Deniss Vasiljevs LAT - Eighth at Rostelecom Cup a few weeks back, Vasiljevs could really make a strong effort this week. But it all depends on his consistency and his ability to fully rotate his jumps in competition.
11. Alexei Bychenko ISR - Bychenko is, frankly, a mystery to me this week. His top 10 finish at Worlds last season gave Israel two spots at the Olympics, giving him and teammate Daniel Samohin a huge sigh of relief knowing that they would not have to battle it out for the one spot. But Bychenko's early season has not been all that strong yet, and he will need to get back into the form that he was in late last season for him to make an impact this week.
12. Hiroaki Sato JPN - Sato was eighth at the Japan Championships last season and started this season off with a 12th-place finish at Lombardia Trophy. This will be his debut on the senior Grand Prix.