CRANBERRY — There is no disputing Erik Karlsson’s credentials as a future Hall of Famer.
Earning three Norris Trophies as the NHL’s top defenseman answers any questions about that rather emphatically.
But 38 games into his tenure with the Pittsburgh Penguins, it is fair to wonder how Karlsson has fit in with them, and whether he has — or ever will — consistently perform at the level the Penguins expected when president of hockey operations/GM Kyle Dubas cobbled together a three-team trade to acquire him last summer.
Oh, there have been times when Karlsson has done exactly what management had hoped. Maybe even more.
He is an offensive savant, an exceptional skater whose creativity is almost as impressive as his instincts and gift for playmaking.
That is why his contract is worth an average of $11.5 million per season (of which the Penguins are responsible for $10 million).
It certainly isn’t because of his work in the defensive zone. Opposing forwards operating near the Penguins’ net — as Buffalo’s Zemgus Girgensons was when he scored the game-winner in the Sabres’ 3-1 victory at PPG Paints Arena Saturday — sometimes find him to be just slightly more formidable than a puff of mist.