This year's ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating series will no doubt offer some great performances, starting this weekend with the Hilton HHonours Skate America event in Kent, Wash., which kicks off the six-event series.
The fact that there are key players missing this season
means that we will have to wait until the world championships in March to see who will land on top of the podium in this very important pre-Olympic season.
2010 Olympic champion Evan Lysacek of the U.S., who withdrew from Skate America last week citing a groin injury, doesn't plan at this point to make another appearance in the Grand Prix season. Reigning women's world champion Carolina Kostner of Italy, 2010 Olympic champion Yu-Na Kim of Korea and 2006 Olympic champion Evgeni Plushenko of Russia have all decided to skip the Grand Prix events but are presumed to be competing in the second half of the season.Men: Teenager Hanyu rounding into form
The missing skaters won't take away from some great competition. Looking at the men's field for Skate America, one name in particular jumps off the page: Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan. The 17-year-old was the world silver medallist last season, and the world junior champion in 2010.
What impressed me last season was his determination in competition. But he lacked a certain finesse. Enter the coaching team of Brian Orser and Tracy Wilson and choreographers David Wilson and Jeffrey Buttle last spring, and I think he is on his way to solving that problem.
Even with the appearance of American Jeremy Abbott, Czech skaters Michal Brezina and Tomas Verner and fellow Japanese skater Takahiko Kozuka, Hanyu is still my pick for gold here.
Ice dance: Weaver & Poje carry Canadian hopes
The ice dance competition will go to Americans Meryl Davis and Charlie White, unless something that I can't even imagine happens. As former world champions and the current Olympic and world silver medallists, Davis and White are the highest ranked competitors in this field.
There are two other teams that I am really keen to see: Russians Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev, who recently won the Finlandia Trophy competition. I really like this team. I think at times they have had what I call underwhelming material and as a result have been occasionally under-marked. They've made the switch to coach Alexander Zhulin and I'm eager to see the changes.
Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje are the lone Canadian
competitors at Skate America. They recently won their own pre-season tune-up at the Ondrej Nepela Memorial event. This team has undergone an amazing transformation over the last couple of seasons and sits in fourth in the world. The charge to the world podium for Weaver and Poje starts now.Ladies: Wagner has home-ice edge
There is an interesting head-to-head match brewing in the ladies' event. American Ashley Wagner is my pick to take this event based on the fact that she is on home soil and in her home time zone. She finished fourth at worlds last year with an amazing performance in her free, which vaulted her from eight place after the short program.
Her biggest rival will be Russia's Alena Leonova, who is the current world silver medallist. Leonova's stellar short program was the insurance that kept her on the podium after a fourth-place free program.
In other words, for these two, Skate America could go either way. Both Wagner and Leonova have the ability to win. It will come down to who is able to present the strongest performances in both the short and free segments.Pairs: Russians impressive
I love the fact that there are two teams competing at Skate America in pairs that I am going to be watching in earnest all season long.
The first is the Chinese team of Qing Pang and Jian Tong, who are two-time world champions and Olympic silver medallists. They were lukewarm for me last season and never seemed to really get off the ground, finishing fourth at worlds. I'm hoping that in the off-season they've been able to re-group and are able to get back to their peak competitive form.
The second team is my early pick for taking the world title.
I've been so impressed by Russians Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov since they got together. Now in their third season, they have two world silver medals and a European title to their credit.
The top pairs all have great technique, but there is something about this team that combines the best of classic Russian pairs skating with modern technique and high-risk elements.
Of the two, I think it will be Volosozhar and Trankov who will be at the top of the podium this weekend.Pj's gold-medal picks:Men:
Yuzuru Hanyu (Japan)Ladies:
Ashley Wagner (United States)Dance:
Meryl Davis and Charlie White (United States)Pairs:
Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov (Russia)Click here to watch CBC Sports' live stream of Skate America and chat with Pj on Saturday, starting at 3 p.m. ET.
Go here for CBC's full figure skating broadcast and streaming schedule.
Back to accessibility links