14W-FD-6961-CL-RR 595by Melanie Hoyt | Photo by Robin Ritoss

This weekend, the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating will make its third stop in Shanghai. Cup of China was last held in Shanghai two years ago. This event will mark the season debut of the reigning world champions, Anna Cappellini & Luca Lanotte, as well as the competitive debut of the new team of Elena Ilinykh & Ruslan Zhiganshin.

Cappellini & Lanotte have made a major change since their narrow victory at the World Championships last season. While they continue to split their time between Milan and Michigan, their secondary training base is now in Canton with Marina Zoueva, instead of in Novi with Igor Shpilband. The Italian world champions should have plenty of confidence after last season, but since they have not competed yet this season, all eyes will be on their technical mark to see if they achieve their targeted levels. Their Paso Doble to “Capriccio Espagnol” should have plenty of flair, and they have chosen darker music than usual, “Danse Macabre,” for their free dance this season.

Their American training mates are expected to be among the medal contenders. Maia Shibutani & Alex Shibutani will surely hope to build on their silver medal from Skate America. Another silver or a gold should be enough to qualify them for the Grand Prix Final, but with a bronze, they will have to wait and see how the rest of the series goes. The Shibutanis performed very well two weeks ago in Chicago, but their levels held them back from challenging for gold. Coach Zoueva was not impressed with the calling, and it will be interesting to see if they have made the necessary changes to get the levels this time around.

As yet untested, Russians Ilinykh & Zhiganshin are a bit of a wild card, but with so much experience between the two of them, they have to be considered medal threats, even in their first event together. Dance fans are anxious to see how they will fare, especially training with Svetlana Alexeeva & Elena Kustarova, who are known for success with junior teams, but not with seniors. Ilinykh will undoubtedly be able to handle the roles of “Carmen” in their short dance and “Cleopatra” in the free dance, but some people are less convinced that Zhiganshin will be able to keep up with her. And as always, levels will be a question mark in their first event.

With new confidence and clout as the top French team, Gabriella Papadakis & Guillaume Cizeron could really make this a breakout season with a shot at the podium in China. Their move to Montréal with longtime coach Romain Haguenauer has resulted in a collaboration with Marie-France Dubreuil & Patrice Lauzon that appears to have softened their connection and heightened their motivation. With one of the most appealing Paso Doble short dances seen this year so far, the young upstarts are capable of making a big move in the first segment of competition. They certainly have plenty of momentum after a victory at the Skate Canada Autumn Classic last month.

Canadians Alexandra Paul & Mitchell Islam were also at the Autumn Classic, but mistakes in both programs kept them off the podium, a disappointing fourth place in their hometown event. Their short dance is striking, though, and it was really a costume issue that caused their lift mistake at Autumn Classic, which they have had plenty of time to fix. Their jazzy free dance to Sinatra tunes has garnered mixed reviews, and a pair of costly mistakes at their last outing point back to the mental game that has plagued the team in the past. Skating clean at this event will be key for their confidence and momentum as they look toward another tough domestic battle this season.

A trio of Chinese teams round out the roster. They are led by Yiyi Zhang & Nan Wu, who were seventh at Cup of China a year ago and eighth at the 2014 Four Continents Championships. Shiyue Wang & Xinyu Liu were ninth at 2014 Four Continents. The new team of Yue Zhao & Xun Zheng will make their debut in Shanghai. Zhao was 11th at 2014 Four Continents, while Zheng, a two-time Olympian with Xintong Huang, is one of the most experienced ice dancers in China.

The short dance will be held on Friday afternoon (3:00 a.m. EST) and the free dance is scheduled for Saturday afternoon (2:00 a.m. EST).