11/06/2014 02:10 EST | Updated 01/06/2015 05:59 EST

Cup of China: Ice dance world champs must prove it

I like nothing better than the fact that the first two ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating events of the season have had surprises. I'm eagerly waiting to see what will happen in Shanghai this weekend at the Cup of China.

There's something interesting to be said for the skaters competing in each of the four disciplines, but I want to start with the ladies’ event.

The Russian women have started by taking gold in the first two Grand Prix events this season. I expect it will be a Russian woman again on top of the podium in Shanghai, and it could be either world silver medallist Julia Lipnitskaia or teammate and Skate America silver medallist Elizaveta Tuktamysheva. I'm going with Tuktamysheva, for no other reason than her desire to improve on her recent outing and ensure that she gets to the Grand Prix Final next month in Barcelona.

I'm waiting for the Chinese pairs team of Cheng Peng and Hao Zhang to really prove that they're the team I think they are. Hao is a multi-time medallist at the world championships and has an Olympic silver (with former partner Dan Zhang) under his belt, so being at the top is nothing new for him. He and Cheng were just lukewarm at Skate America, finishing with a bronze medal. I want more. This team has everything going for it, including chemistry, strength and a fifth-place finish at the most recent worlds.

There are notable champions in both the men’s and dance events. Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu’s first Grand Prix outing  should set the tone for what he's hoping to accomplish this season; namely coming out on top. He has paired up again with choreographers Jeff Buttle (for his short program) and David Wilson (for the free). I can’t wait for what’s in store.

Ice dance world champions Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte of Italy are in a league of their own at this event. The bigger story for them is about their programs and whether they will be able to ultimately hold their own this season against a tough international field. Be on the lookout for Russia’s newest ice dance darlings, 2014 Olympic bronze medallist Elena Ilinykh and new partner Ruslan Zhiganshin. This will be my first look at them. Talk about a wild card.

I’ll be watching:

- Yuzuru Hanyu (Japan): There's a lot riding on the shoulders of the Olympic champion.  He holds the record for the highest posted score for the short program and the second-highest free and overall scores. The first two Grand Prix events have already been won by Japanese men. Can Hanyu make it three in his season debut?

- Nam Nguyen (Canada): At Skate America two weeks ago, I wondered how easily the 2014 junior world champion would make the leap to skating on the big stage at a senior Grand Prix event. I needn’t have worried as he posted personal-best scores in his short and overall on his way to collecting a bronze medal.  

- Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte (Italy): I love this dance team. They're light on their feet and have a great connection. That said, they can not rest on their laurels this season. They won the world title by an astonishingly close 0.02 points ahead of Canadians Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje. Based on what I saw at last week’s Skate Canada, gold medallists Weaver and Poje are leaving nothing to chance. If Cappellinni and Lanotte want to stay ahead, they need the best material possible and outstanding skating skills each and every time they compete.

- Alexandra Paul and Mitchell Islam (Canada): I got the chance to see what this team had been working on over the summer when they competed in Barrie, Ont., last month. Here’s what I know: they’re fast, they have wonderful chemistry, they continue to improve and evolve and their 10th-place finish at worlds was proof of their promise. It’s time to build on the success of last season.

Pj’s Podium Picks

Dance: Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte (Italy).

Men: Yuzuru Hanyu (Japan).

Pairs: Cheng Peng and Hao Zhang (China).

Ladies: Elizaveta Tuktamysheva (Russia).

Tweet me your picks and anything else @skatingpj and with the hashtag #cbcskate.

Just for fun

It’s time to get to know some more Canadian talent competing at the Cup of China.

Two-time national silver medallist Gabrielle Daleman’s best friend may surprise you.

Canadians Natasha Purich and Drew Wolfe just started skating together in May 2014. The Cup of China marks their first trip to an ISU Grand Prix.